9 – Review

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Machines won a battle for planet Earth, wiping out all living creatures, leaving nothing of humanity – well, almost nothing.

The scientist who designed the mechanical beast that lead the revolution put just a little bit of himself into nine rag dolls.

This film follows the adventures of number 9 (Elijah Wood), as he wakes in his maker’s workshop to find the last surviving human in a heap on the floor and sets out to explore the post-apocalyptic world outside.

Before long, he stumbles across the sympathetic elderly 2 (Martin Landau), who fixes his voice box and invites him into the dilapidated church where he lives with the rest of the dolls.

Each one carries a different trait of its maker’s personality – and humanity – so there’s a bossy one, a brave one, a shy one, and so on.

Against the orders of the disapproving, overbearing patriarch, 1 (Christopher Plummer), 9 persuades 2 that they can go out and fight for their freedom and they set out into the dangerous outside world to find another one of their number, who’s failed to return from a previous mission.

During their rescue attempt, 9 accidentally awakens the invincible mother beast, forcing the dolls to pull together to defeat the evil, soul-sucking robots and save what is left of humanity.


Shane Acker was nominated for an Oscar in 2006 for a short film of the same name, which looked a bit like this – perhaps a little less polished – and was just 10% of the duration.

The feature length came about after perhaps two of the few film-makers who’d have a wild enough imagination to bring such a vision to the big screen – Tim Burton and Timur (Night Watch/Wanted) Bekmanbetov – saw the short and came on board to back a feature version.

This time around, the same characters are more sharply drawn and visually complex, thanks to a bigger CGI budget, they’re given dialogue, that’s not particularly profound – especially when you consider that the short was mute, the monsters are bigger and badder and the “sets” are more cinematic. The action is brisk, even if the plot is a little convenient and linear.

Most impressively, in the circumstances, Acker has done a remarkably good job of taking the same story and filling feature length – admittedly it’s short by feature standards – without it feeling stretched, but even more remarkable was that when I went back afterwards and watched the short again, I almost couldn’t work out what was missing.

It’s highly original, in terms of visual style and it’s rare to see an animation tackle such dark and tragic themes. It’s also a refreshing change to see an animation that pushes for a striking visual impact, with strong, sympathetic characters on a dramatic quest, that has a fatalistic ending, and puts substance ahead of style, eschewing the modern-day temptation to dazzle with 3D.

But it’s hard to know who the target audience is. The post-apocalyptic setting, soul-stealing monsters and dystopic themes are very adult, but the dialogue and voices are simplistic and childlike in their innocence and banality. The rag dolls are cute enough to appeal to children, but the monsters are fearsome in their ruthless brutality and an ending that’s profound, rather than uplifting, would alienate younger viewers.

There’s much more in this for adults than children, but how many adults would go to see an animated feature starring cute rag dolls, without taking children with them?!

Probably about 9.