D: Shane Acker. W: Pamela Pettler (story by Acker). Starring (voice): Elijah Wood/Christopher Plummer/John C. Reilly/Jennifer Connelly/Crispin Glover/Martin Landau/Alan Oppenheimer.
The fourth feature computer animator release to be given a PG-13 rating, 9 pushes boundaries and visual concepts. But what’s the use of that when your still begging for more?
Boasting an impressive voice roster, the film is well balanced between the characters and gives enough time for each rag doll to illustrate its role and place within the group. Wood does well at 9, he has enough young timbre left in his voice to pull off the blind braveness that rules 9’s actions. Plummer’s voice is lent to enigmatic leader, 1, and is just as impressive as he was earlier in the summer in Disney’s UP. Connelly is rather unremarkable and has less to do as 7, with John C. Reilly’s recognizable voice rounding out the major dolls as 5.
But what is central to this film is Acker’s visuals, created by his art, animation, and visual effects teams with art director, Christophe Vacher and editor, Nick Kenway. With notable producer, Tim Burton, on his team, Acker is able to generate a post-apocalyptic world that embraces the gray, the shadow between the dark and the light.
His desecrated world holds beauty in its disgrace, but not because of a memory for what it was, but rather the complexity of its destruction. The detail on the rag dolls and their desolate is not only brilliant, but memorable. Proving that 9, also based on Acker’s 2005 short of the same name that garnered Acker an Academy Award nomination for best short film (animated), is only the beginning.
However, this film is an impressive example of how visual effects, style, and design cannot carry a story. Since, although, the audience discovers the world and its tragic state alongside Wood’s 9, he is not on his own long enough for a bond to be created or an investment to be made with him. The argument could be made that investment in character is not intrinsic to a successful film. Yet, while agreeing with that, it must be noted that 9 also treads on familiar thematic ground: man vs. machine, one vs. many (group), fear vs. bravery, and, of course, purpose. And it is the coupling of the two faults that holds the film back from its true potential.
A potential that is also squandered through the predictable use of music to enhance the images on screen. Further reinforcing the current reign of Pixar that will hopefully last well into the next decades.