With “good day to be alive” possibilities swirling around the “calendrical anomaly,” September 9, 2009 (9/9/09) seems the perfect time for a CG animated catastrophe movie. Set in a post-apocalyptic near future, ‘9‘ opens today from producers Tim Burton (The Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Beetlejuice) and Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted), writer Pamela Pettler (Monster House) and director Shane Acker (from his Academy Award-nominated 2004 short film). ‘9‘ tells the story as it might happen if Dr. Frankenstein animated your grandmother’s sewing basket just as the Terminator’s Skynet was becoming self-aware. The movie, thankfully, is more simple and more complex than that.
With the world in pieces, nine “stitchpunks” must band together to fight the machines that have destroyed it. The titular character (voiced by Elijah Wood, Lord of the Rings) rallies his compadres to band together and defeat the still marauding enemies. The group learns the value of individual strength and communal perseverance as they face the challenges of their new reality. They also learn that the safety of old thinking can be matched with the wildness of the fringe dwellers.
Each primary character has a number instead of a name, adding to the impersonal feel of the world gone awry. #1 (Christopher Plummer, Inside Man, Up) is the unofficial leader of the group, #2 (Martin Landau, Without A Trace, City of Ember), an inventor, #3 and #4 need no voice talents-they are twins who communicate with movie camera eyes, #5 (John C. Reilly, Talledega Nights), an engineer, #6 Crispin Glover (Back to the Future and kicking David Letterman in the head), a visionary artist-literally, #7 (Jennifer Connelly, House of Sand and Fog, Blood Diamond) and #8 (Fred Tatasciore, the voice talent of numerous cartoon and video game characters) #1’s dimwitted, knife-wielding enforcer.
This ragtag, pardon the pun, group comes together, falls apart, is victorious and regathers over the course of the 80 minute film.
As can be seen in the trailers both on TV and online, ‘9‘ is a visual feast. When 9 pushes open the attic shutters early in the film, the ensuing widening shot in remnisent of the bombing of Dresden. The colors are muted earth tones, with fire, smoke and smog. The bad machines are the denizens of any kid’s nightmares: a mean dog, an angry bird, and a vicious snake, all with machine underbellies.
The enemy in ‘9‘ is the unchecked advance of technology, ending in war and destruction. A subtle spiritual parable exists that has “the scientist,” also called “the Source,” recognizing the malevolent evil in the world and giving of himself to save it. That giving is the transfer of his life to his creation giving them the opportunity to create a better world. In the end, ‘9‘ is at least a 7 from being an effective story about friendship, hardship and the power of courage. It actually could have used another fifteen minutes, but seems targeted for the late childhood early teen years, despite the PG-13 rating.
‘9,’ from Focus Features is rated PG-13 for violence and scary images.