by NIR SHALEV
Shane Acker’s 9 is a visually stunning, original, and depressing portrayal of ragdolls that begin to exist after mankind’s extinction.
9 is a ragdoll with the number nine printed on his back. As the film opens he is created and shortly after awakens. His creator lies motionless on the floor and 9 experiences the walk cycle for the first time. He walks through a wasteland that depicts a post-WWII Europe and one of the first things that he sees is a wrecked car that contains the deceased bodies of a mother holding her infant.
This is the first PG-13 rated, 3D animated film and is most definitely not a film for children under the age of 13.
In the Wasteland, 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood) bumps into 2 (voiced by Martin Landau), another ragdoll wandering around and scouting. 2 informs 9 that a beast wanders there. To attempt to describe the beast is difficult, but it kind of looks like a metallic exoskeleton in the form of a large wolf and it has the actual skull of canine for a head. Shortly after their meeting, 2 is taken by the beast and as 9 runs for safety he meets with a few other ragdolls seeking shelter within an enormous citadel: 1 (voiced by Christopher Plummer), the leader; 3 and 4, the twins; 5 (voiced by John C. Reilly), the cyclops; 6 (voiced by Crispin Glover), the black and white striped ragdoll who’s haunted by a familiar design; 7 (voiced by Jennifer Connelly), the heroine; and 8 (voiced by Fred Tatasciore), 1’s personal bodyguard.
9 is the bravest of the bunch and quickly decides to save 2 from the beast. 1 is against almost every decision 9 makes, but that never stops 9 from doing what he believes in. While rescuing 2, 9 inadvertently resurrects an artificially intelligent machine, the one that was apparently responsible for the destruction of mankind. That machine begins building a new army of lesser machines; crawling machines, flying machines, etc. The nine dolls have a new enemy now, a tougher and smarter one, and they try to survive many hard battles in order to find a way to destroy the machine.
This is a very grim movie. As I watched the fantastically original world that was created entirely with CGI I was always aware that it’s a destroyed world. Trenches and WWII helmets can be seen here and there and the sun never protrudes from behind the clouds. It’s like looking at the world through a pair of sunglasses, always and forever. It’s a beautifully haunting world that continues to exist without purpose; it’s simply what’s left. The message is similar to that from the “Terminator” films except the protagonists aren’t human beings; they’re far smaller and more fragile.
The dolls themselves can be easily told apart thanks to imaginative and immaculate attention to detail; the 3D animators deserve a special thanks for that. The voice acting is excellent and the motion capture of the dolls and other creatures is realistic to a certain degree.
Another interesting aspect, whether intentional or not, is that the story structure and cinematography are very similar to that of a video game version of an RPG (role playing game): you are thrust into a world which you’re grossly unfamiliar with, you accidentally unleash the beast (your immediate antagonist) that you will eventually have to destroy, and the world you exist in will play a large role in your actions. It is comforting having played thousands of video games so far in my life because I can easily attune myself to a certain quantity of suspension of disbelief.
To say that this is an action film is not an understatement but to say that this is a better action film than Terminator Salvation is honestly telling the truth without smirking. The effects are better here and more coherent, and the ending is very melancholy and intellectual. One will be discussing the themes of this film long after it’s over and this effect coming from a 3D animated film is rewarding and original all on its own.