5-Word 365 #118 – 9

I realise this is supposed to be Kids Film Friday, and when I put this flick on this morning I was expecting a kids’ film. Now that I’ve seen it though, I’m not so sure.


Toy Story meets The Matrix

It is the end of the world. A scientist – possibly the last human on the planet – has created a series of ragdoll homunculi and given them life at the cost of his own. They have to do something, and defeat an evil machine, and try not to die. Confusion ensues.

Let’s get the compliments out of the way first: this film looks fantastic. Director Shane Acker calls the look of the dolls “stitchpunk”, like a cross between steampunk and the PlayStation game Little Big Planet. It’s a unique design, and the animators have done an excellent job building the dead world the story takes place in. Humanity’s war with the machines is only recently ended with the genocide of every living thing on the planet, and the film is set in this wasteland of empty, crumbling buildings. It is only a pretty small region that we see, geographically speaking, but that’s due to the limitations in both the story and the length of the characters legs (the dolls are only about five or six inches tall). The various action scenes are tremendous as well, full of excitement and genuine peril. The adversaries that these little guys find themselves up against happens to be the biggest collection of nightmare fuel I think I’ve ever seen in a supposed kids film. They have been built out of whatever was to hand by the machine that was responsible for the apocalypse, and “whatever was to hand” seems to mostly be big sharp knives and animal skulls.

So what doesn’t work? Unfortunately, almost everything else. This film might be a new high-water mark in style over substance. 9 was originally a short made almost single-handedly by Shane Acker as a film school project, which came to the attention of the Tims, Burton and Bekmambetov (the pairing also responsible for this summer’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter which I am actually looking forward to) who produced this expansion. Personally, I think it would have been better left alone. There just isn’t enough story to fill even the slight eighty-minute running time. The film feels stretched, particularly in the first two acts. This has the result of both crippling the pacing and leaving the actual purpose of the story as a bit of a headscratcher. I was starting to feel bored and confused quite a few times between the action beats.

That’s right, all I’ve got is a lightbulb on a stick, BUT I CAN STILL TAKE YOU!

To play his dolls, Acker has gone for known actors as opposed to specialist voice actors, with varying degrees of success. I don’t think Elijah Wood was the right choice to play 9, the lead doll. He’s good in live-action, but his voice seems empty. He can do the inflection of emotions but there is a flatness to his voice; it doesn’t have soul. When someone’s best performance was as a mute serial killer, they probably shouldn’t do animation. Christopher Plummer on the other hand is as classy as ever playing 1, the oldest doll and the leader of the group. Jennifer Connelly is good as 7, but John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover and in particular Martin Landau aren’t given enough to really make an impression. Here’s a little bit of (mildly spoilerish) trivia though: the scientist who created both the dolls and the machine that ultimately destroyed all life on Earth is voiced by Alan Oppenheimer. He is the third cousin of Robert Oppenheimer, one of the men who built a machine that had the potential to destroy all life on Earth.

I’m still not sure who this film is really aimed at. Post-apocalypse movies never really play well with the younger crowd, especially when you add in the horrors of the machines, but this doesn’t quite have the depth and character development to resonate with an adult audience either. It’s an ambitious misfire, but a misfire nonetheless.


  1. mhuard5 · April 27, 2012

    I was intrigued enough by the visuals to view it a second time. It still didn’t make sense.

  2. todayiwatchedamovie · April 27, 2012

    Style without substance is right.

  3. fernandorafael · April 28, 2012

    Nice review! Sometimes I tolerate style over substance but I don’t think that would be the case with 9. I tend to be extremely picky with animated films.

  4. Bubbawheat · April 28, 2012

    My daughter has been obsessed, and I mean OBSESSED with 9 ever since seeing this movie. I don’t know exactly what chord it struck with her, but it definitely struck a chord. I thought it was absolutely stylish and unique and I enjoyed it.

    • Ryan McNeely · April 28, 2012

      I agree it was stylish and unique, but I think that was partly to the detriment of the story. I was wondering who the movie was aimed at and now I know; it was made for Jena. Thanks for clearing that up!

  5. Mark Walker · April 28, 2012

    I actually really liked this one Ryan. I had heard so many bad opinions of it beforehand that I found it took me by surprise. I got right involved. I was stoned at the time right enough 😉

    • Ryan McNeely · April 28, 2012

      Drugs are bad, mmmkay?

      • Mark Walker · April 28, 2012

        Haha. I actually only enjoy South Park with a smoke as well, as it goes! 😉

  6. CMrok93 · April 28, 2012

    It’s a very good-looking flick that feels very moody and dark, but still didn’t do much for me other than entertain me for 78 minutes. Maybe that’s not so bad, but it was just a bit too short for my own liking. Good review Ryan.

  7. Pingback: 5-Word 365 #244 – Gnomeo and Juliet | 5-Word Movie Reviews

Go ahead, punk. Make my day.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s