Movie Review: 9
By Matthew Huntley
September 19, 2009
The popular notion for animated features is they're made mostly for children and families. Adults are rarely considered the target audience. 9 not only subverts that idea but also backs itself up with a thoughtful story, exciting visuals and a lasting message that adults will take seriously. As good as Up was earlier this year, it's a shame 9 won't reach half that film's audience, because, dare I say it, it probably deserves even more.
The story of 9 takes place in a bleak, post-apocalyptic future. The war between man and machine has ended and the machines won. Now the world is a barren wasteland covered in dust and rubble and the only signs of life are nine robotic figures called "stitchpunks," who have burlap skin and human-like traits. Think of them as little gingerbread men with WALL-E's eyes.
Each stitchpunk has a distinct voice and personality, although they don't seem all that curious about who they are or how they came to be. Maybe they have no need to question their existence because it's inherent knowledge, or maybe it's just easier to accept the world in front of them.
Not for #9 (voiced by Elijah Wood). He's just woken up and has no voice, although he clearly knows how to speak. He looks around the empty room and sees a dead man on the floor, but he doesn't know who he is. Outside, 9 spots #2 (Martin Landau), who provides him a voice, but 2 is soon captured by a roaring machine called "the Beast." After 9 is rescued by #5 (John C. Reilly), he beseeches their leader, #1 (Christopher Plummer), to help rescue 2, but 1's only prerogative is to hide from the machines. 9 has more courage and decides to put up a fight, rescue his friend and find out why the world is in ruins.
Those answers are the driving force behind 9, a film where lots of action and story takes place before we even know what it's about. Director Shane Acker (who also penned the story) and screenwriter Pamela Pettler put their faith in us to care about what we're watching without quenching our curiosity all at once. The film maintains a firm grip because we're so anxious to learn where it's going, while its action and imagery keep us entertained as it slowly reveals itself.
I won't give away the movie's answers but will say they're unexpected and come with a wide range of possibilities. By the end, there were some aspects of the story I didn't necessarily get, including why #7 (Jennifer Connelly) is female and how she became so learned in the martial arts, or why certain characters behave the way they do. A second viewing would help, and this is one film I'd like to re-watch, if not for the story then for the technical achievements. The style and presentation are dazzling and beautiful and, like WALL-E, the filmmakers take a risk by making the world look unwholesome (yet completely distinguishable).
What I liked most about 9 was its directness and the way it assumes the audience doesn't need to know everything that's going on to stay with it. It also doesn't feel the need to be bright, cheerful or humorous just to hold our attention. The film is dark, violent and invokes fear without feeling the need to dumb it down or lighten it up. The filmmakers are aware the audience for 9 isn't necessarily for kids. This is a smart, brisk and inventive animated feature for older teen and adults, and although a sequel would definitely provide more answers, I like the idea of wondering about them even more. It's rare thing when a movie can leave us in both a state of wonder and admiration. 9 is one example.