In the not so distant future, mankind is all but eliminated from the face of the Earth. In the similar fashion as the Terminator films, man built machines that ultimately led to his and all of life’s eradication. Man may be gone, however, but in his place are miniature ragdoll-like puppet creatures imbued with the soul of their creator. It is these strange little creations — actually one named 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood) in particular — whose mission it is to defeat the machine overlords and restore the planet to an inhabitable world.
Now, I’ve grown to expect some very strange things when I see the name Tim Burton affixed to something — he has a keen eye for the dark, obscure and awkward. He also has a knack at taking these improbable nuggets and making them shiny for mass acceptance. 9 is the latest story he’s put his collective weight behind. It’s got the bizarre factor down, but I still think it is a bit too dull for my liking.
Mostly, the lacklusteredness of 9 stems from the story itself — or more pointedly, it’s the lack of one that is really at issue. Nothing is ever really explained well enough for the viewer to know what the hell is or has gone on. What exactly are 9 and his fellow puppet creatures (each with a number for a name and voiced by talents like John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover, Jennifer Connelly, Martin Landau and Christopher Plummer) and how were they created? Why, if humans possess this most awesome technology, don’t they stop Armageddon from happening at all? What pissed the machines off so much in the first place that they wiped out every living thing off of the planet? These unanswered questions are undoubtedly a consequence from trying to expand the source material — an 11 minute short film of the same name (and coincidentally same director Shane Acker). Perhaps an extra ten minutes added to the 79 minute running time or the replacement of one or two of the many machine/doll chase scenes with explanation scenes would have calmed my ever curious mind. Perhaps not.
Yet, even though the film raises more questions than it answers about our eventual demise and the order of the world after we’re gone, it is still visually entertaining. The CGI by first time animation studio Focus Features is very detailed oriented. The dark, dirty and crumbling cityscape in which most of 9 takes place is eerie and depressing. The mechanized enemies are jagged, hard and ominously lifeless. The dolls are doughy-like and cute in a sad sort of way. 85% of the movie takes place under the black of night (or perhaps it is better to say in the lack of light) further adding a foreboding atmosphere to the tale and ultimately to our bleak future.
And even though I’m tired of there not being any movies highlighting sunny, happy visions of our future, I’ll toss some credit towards 9 for taking a stab at the post apocalyptic story with a new, fresh fantastical angle. I may not have understood a great deal of the underlying imagery, but that wasn’t necessary for me to at least enjoy myself more than I would have had I been cutting the lawn.