9 (director/writer: Shane Acker; animation director: Joe Ksander; screenwriters: Pamela Pettler/based on a story by Shane Acker; cinematographer: Kevin R. Adams; editor: Nick Kenway; music: Deborah Lurie, with themes by Danny Elfman; cast: WITH THE VOICES OF: Christopher Plummer (1), Martin Landau (2), John C. Reilly (5), Crispin Glover (6), Jennifer Connelly (7), Fred Tatasciore (8/Radio Announcer), Elijah Wood (9), Alan Oppenheimer (Scientist), Tom Kane (Dictator), Helen Wilson (Newscaster); Runtime: 79; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Jim Lemley/Tim Burton/ Timur Bekmambetov/Dana Ginsburg; Focus Features; 2009)

"Well-designed but formulaic survival tale."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

First-time director Shane Acker expands his same titled 11-minute 2005 Academy Award-nominated animation short he made at UCLA. It's a didactic and flat post-apocalyptic nightmare fable using this time big-name voices in the animation to present his story (cowritten with Pamela Pettler) of pint-sized humanoids forced into saving the planet after confronting a gigantic serpent-like Machine wielding a scissors. It's one of those Stanley Kramer-like humanitarian films warning that mankind has the potential to destroy the world in its blind pursuit of technology and that we should be careful to never lose our soul (some safe advice, sort of like mom telling her children not to go out without rain gear when it's raining). The transition from a short to a feature didn't work for me, but fans of Tim Burton, one of the producers, might see his fingerprints all over this well-designed but formulaic survival tale and therefore be pleased with its dystopian vision and the originality of the overall look to discount its shortcomings.

The earth is destroyed by a genius scientist's (Alan Oppenheimer) creation of a powerful gigantic metal Machine without a soul, who is manipulated by an evil Nazi-like chancellor to obey his commands until the Machine destroys the world. In a bombed-out, desolate urban landscape, we find Nos. 1-8 surviving in a secret hiding place from the Beast (a mechanical monster shaped like a cat). The survivors are little creatures who can talk (doll-like figures with a body of zipped-up fabric and blinking lenses for eyes and on their back numbers). They hide from the predatory mechanical monster because of fear that's instilled in them by their cowardly self-appointed leader known as No. 1 (Christopher Plummer). When the most idealistic, bravest and youngest puppet-figure, No. 9 (Elijah Wood), comes into the picture after awakening from a slumber in a toy factory, he challenges the negative leadership of 1 and insists they go on a rescue mission for the missing elderly No. 2 (Martin Landau). Eventually, after rescuing 2 from the Beast, 9 inadvertently awakens the slumbering world-destroying Machine. Thereafter 9 makes contact with the repentant genius scientist who created the Machine and learns how to trick it into being destroyed without killing the two little creatures he trapped inside him. 

Though impressed with the film's execution and its handsome innovative way of showing a doomed world and in full support of the bleak parable's hopeful view that mankind can make the world a good place to live in, I could never get emotionally involved in the shallow story or care for the whimsical transparent puppet-figures who annoyingly seemed to be lecturing us in a patronizing manner without telling us what we hadn't heard a thousand times before.

REVIEWED ON 12/13/2009       GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"