The computer-animated film 9 is a sort of Terminator Salvation for tweens. Set in a post-apocalyptic world that has been destroyed by war machines who turned against their creators, the last echoes of humanity are to be found in a small group of rag dolls who have been brought to life with the essence of their human creator. The last doll to be brought to life is 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood) who soon meets the other dolls and while on a mission to save 2 (voiced by Martin Landau), unwittingly brings to life the deadly Fabrication Machine, which has the ability to build more machines of death and destruction.
Animator Shane Acker first made 9 as a short film and on the strength of that it has now been made into this impressive feature debut. While the producers include Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands) and Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch) 9 tonally owes more to some of the darker 1980s animated features such as Don Bluth’s 1982 The Secret of NIMH. Stylistically 9 belongs to the science fiction sub-genre of steampunk, with many of the war machines seen in flashbacks looking distinctively like the re-imagined The War of the Worlds alien spaceships from Alan Moore’s second The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic series. In fact, the handcrafted found-object appearance and functionality of dolls and machines in 9 have resulted in fans already referring to the film as ‘stitchpunk’.
While 9 will appeal predominantly to adolescent and maybe young adult viewers, it is too dark and scary for younger children. It is also a bit too simplistic and basic for older audiences who will find plenty to marvel at from a distance but little to really engage with. While 9 contains several stunning scenic backdrops, the action in the foreground tends to be overly fast and busy, lacking the fluidity that allows audiences to really connect with what is going on. Nevertheless, 9 is overall an enjoyable and inventive film with a touching conclusion that takes the edge off some of the darker moments earlier in the film without feeling like a compromise.