Directed by: Shane Acker
Starring: Elijah Wood, Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Christopher Plummer
Steampunk or any type of “punk” subgenre has been at the less favorable end of the movie genres category for quite some time. Mortal Instruments failed to perform at the box office. Ghost in the Shell, while panned for its casting of a white actress in the place of an Asian actress, also failed to perform. Other punk subgenre films have similarly failed. 9 is no exception to this rule.
While it was produced by and bears the clear resemblance to many of Tim Burton’s films, it was the brainchild of Shane Acker who created the concept while at UCLA’s Animation Workshop. The short film he created, also called 9, was nominated for an Academy Award in 2006 but lost. However, Tim Burton was so impressed, he decided to fund 9‘s expansion to a full-length film. Despite having Burton’s touch of the macabre, 9 is more style than substance and I’m not sure that that’s okay.
9 (Wood) wakes up in an alternate world where some sort of apocalypse has wiped out humans and destroyed the world. Instead, he is met with a strange mechanical Cat-Beast, the last machine left of a hostile take-over. He also discovers he is not the only “stitchpunk” in this world. He meets 2 (Martin Landau) who is promptly taken by the Cat-Beast to an uncertain doom.
5 (Reilly) rescues 9 and takes him to the Sanctuary, an old church where 1 (Plummer), 8, 6 (Crispin Glover), and 5 live. 1 is the haughty leader and condemns 9 and his curiosity. 9 and 5 immediately get along and form a rescue team to go find 2. While attempting to rescue 2, 9 wakes up the BRAIN and watches as 2’s soul is sucked from his body.
What follows is 9 and the other stitchpunk’s attempts to save their friends and save the world from murderous monsters.
The first images of this movie that we get are very reminiscent to War of the Worlds that I thought I was watching some sort of remake where the aliens won and wiped out the world. However, I quickly learned that wasn’t’ the case. The idea that a scientist creates these ragdolls to save the world with bits of his soul embedded in them is a great concept but I think the concept works better as an 11 minute short than a fully fleshed out 90-minute film.
For me, there were just too many questions. Is this a fully AU world? Did the U.S. choose Fascism over democracy at the start of World War 2? Is this an alternate Germany? What time period is this? What happens after the stitchpunks save the world? Are there truly no humans left? For a story that is fully devoted to ragdoll characters and the only human we see is dead on a floor at the first few minutes of the film, I feel like we need some answers. Especially seeing as the stitchpunks did all of this work only for no other humans to repopulate? I don’t know. The story feels incomplete and I wanted more.
However, I will admit that the style of this world is gorgeous and deliciously steampunk which is everything I could hope for and more. The stitchpunks each have fully defined personalities and the perfect voices for each character. Plummer as 1 is perfection in casting and so is Wood as 9 who has the perfect calm, inquisitive voice 9 needs as a character. In fact, the entire voice cast is strong and well done, and, in addition to the visual style of the world, really lends to the films “believability.”
Make no mistake, though, this is definitely not a children’s movie despite it being animated and I think that’s where some of the apprehension comes from. It’s a fantastic concept, animated films geared specifically to adults, but the story doesn’t need to be dumbed down or not fully developed just because it’s animated. Had Acker fleshed out his story and had it been fully marketed to adults and in a longer format, 9 might have flourished a lot better than it did. As it was, it was still a good film, but I needed more.
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