9 (2009)

Rating: C

Dir: Shane Acker
Star: [voice] Elijah Wood, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Christopher Plummer

This originated in an Oscar-nominated short film by Acker, which Tim Burton saw and liked so much, he was instrumental in getting a feature-length version made. That’s nice: I’m just not convinced the transition was successful, because while visually impressive, the storyline is muddled and the characters are given nowhere near an adequate level of personality. 9 (Wood) is a rag-dollesque creature who wakes up to find himself in a post-apocalyptic landscape; there’s no trace of humanity, they apparently having been wiped out by the mechanical monsters that now roam the landscape.

9 teams up with other similar creations, each with their own personalities, led by 1 (Plummer), a cautious entity, who would rather hide than risk a confrontation, even when some of his colleagues are kidnapped, and their souls apparently stolen by the machines. 7, however, is a good deal braver, and wants to take the fight to the enemy, find out the truth about their origins, and discover their purpose in a post-human world. It takes a special kind of animation to bring what are basically inanimate objects to life and turn them into character. Although it is possible – Pixar managed it magnificently with Wall-E – and this is where Acker falls down. At times, it’s difficult to tell the dolls apart, and they never come to life, rarely seeming much more than artificial constructions.

I read another review comparing it to a high-end computer game, and there’s merit to the suggestion. However, there’s an unimpressive nasty anti-scientific and anti-authoritarian slant to proceedings, though I did enjoy the style and design. This is definitely not a film for young kids, with a consistently dark tone, perhaps tying in with Burton’s role as a producer. Despite thus, it seems aimed at a childish attention span, running barely eighty minutes, and a large part of that consists of action sequences which, while technically impressive, fail to have any lasting impact. I look forward to Acker’s next short film; his next feature, not so much.