Starring: Elijah Wood, Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly
Directed by: Shane Acker (debut)
Written by: Pamela Pettler (“Monster House”)
Contrary to popular belief “9” is not a movie directed by Tim Burton. It seems like anything these days that is stylish, dark, and animated is mistaken for Burton’s work. No, “Coraline” wasn’t his either.
That still doesn’t mean, however, that someone as creative as Burton hasn’t visually influenced a director like Henry Selick or Shane Acker. In “9,” Acker, who turns his 2006 Academy Award-nominated animated short into a feature film, provides a picturesque setting through impressive computer-generated images but leaves some of the storytelling behind in the process.
In the film, which at times can be much more disturbing than anything Burton (a producer on this project) has conjured up, Acker sets his story in a post-apocalyptic world where all humans have disappeared and the only things that remain are a group of small ragdoll-like beings who spend most of their time fending off the frightening mechanical beasts that hunt them down.
The last of the characters to come alive in the wasteland is called 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood). He and the others that have come before him, all of which seem constructed out of burlap sacks and spare parts, are also named in the order they were hand-stitched. It’s only natural that the character with the No. 1 sewn on its back is the leader of the “stitchpunks.” So, when 9 attempts to disturb the hierarchy by questioning why they hide away and wait to be destroyed instead of fight back, a pint-sized revolt takes place and each numbered character must decide what they should do if they want to survive.
While the narrative starts off intriguing, it’s when Acker and screenwriter Pamela Pettler (“Monster House”) fall back into the familiar storyline that things get murky. The second half of “9” becomes a simple rescue mission with an underlying tale about how the machines have come to take over the world.
Still, the visual stimulation “9” offers up is too much to ignore even if most of it comes in heavy doses of drawn-out action sequences. Each character Acker has fashioned has its own unique personality and comes with some fine voice work by actors like John C. Reilly, Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Crispin Glover, and Jennifer Connelly. Even the two mute stitchpunks are mesmerizing to watch as they blink incessantly to communicate with their counterparts.
At the end, Acker makes rookie mistakes, but it’s not enough to spur disinterest in something so imaginative. Give him a few more years and he’s bound to make a masterpiece even without Burton in his corner.