It’s actually more of a two

Katerina Webb-Bourne 5 November 2009

Katerina Webb-Bourne laments the lacklustre plot of this stylish animation

9 – 1hr 19mins, 12A (2/5)

With Tim Burton attached as producer, and all of his requisite animated staples in place: good voice actors, a clever concept, and unlimited amounts of darkness, 9 had so much potential. I could have fallen in love with this film. Instead, I was deeply disappointed.

This animated feature follows nine ‘Stitch punk’ puppets created by a scientist on the eve of the apocalypse in order to save humanity. “9” awakens to a world destroyed by a war between man and machine. He and his fellow band of rag dolls hold the key to reviving life on earth.

The stunning visuals are incredibly enchanting and there are a few signs to reflect that this movie has a powerful creative team and talented visionary behind it. We are treated in particular to a haunting scene where the puppets celebrate a supposed victory to the tune of ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’ only for a monstrous machine to rise from the ashes and suck another rag doll’s soul.

The scenes without dialogue are much more successful at conveying the slowly unfolding terror then script ever manages to be.

This may be because director Shane Acker’s idea was originally showcased as a ten minute silent feature in which a single puppet was chased by a machine with a kitty’s head. These creepy yet original concepts do not gel as well over a longer period of time where dialogue constantly interferes with the story. The contrast between the highly impressive textured backdrop and the rather less than sparkling plot makes the film’s failures all that more obvious.

The audience is left with a rather vapid tale that reflects a triumph of style over substance. Although a dark and complex story constantly threatens to break the surface, it never quite manages. A series of battles are interplayed with scenes of characters debating action in a tiresome manner.

You get the feeling that, even though Acker loves each and every one of his rag dolls, they are barely developed beyond the broadest outlines. We can identify; ‘the warrior’, ‘the kick-ass girl’, ‘the inventor’ and the ‘inquisitive hero’. In this end of the world fable the puppets are just good-looking shells. The truly frustrating factor is that with a little more thought 9 could have been so much more.

This twisted tale questions the value of a future where humans rely so much on technology. The consequence of this are scarily realised in the form of wasted landscapes, where our green and fertile land has been decimated.

These frightening and troubling issues aren’t truly exploited so that 9 might appeal to its broad target audience. The clever and witty dialogue expected of animated features in this day and age is totally lacking. Talented actors like Elijah Wood and John C. Riley are wasted by the clunky characterisation and forced interaction.

The puppets are fighting for their lives yet you never truly feel engaged with their plight because they always seemed like padding designed to sew scenes together.

Lives are constantly sacrificed for good in the course of this cautionary tale but the uncompromising darkness is destroyed by a rather upbeat and out of place ending. You end up with a movie too simple for adults to enjoy, but too dark for youngsters to appreciate either.

The message this film wanted to impart is poorly voiced and consequently forgettable. While Acker might have given his own creations life he forgot to give them a heart. It is a patch-work piece that lacks real imaginative wonder.

9 is now showing at Vue Cinemas

Katerina Webb-Bourne