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Opening with a scene reminiscent of the credits of Focus Featuresí animated triumph, Coraline, we watch hands sewing together threads of life.  In Coraline, the needle sapped life away from those unfortunate enough find themselves literally in stitches, the threads in 9, will determine our story by creating the characters in it.  A moment after life is jolted into a small burlap doll, its creator dies.  His inches-high progeny is born with all the innocence and helplessness of a newborn babe in a world where there is no one left.  A hank of ragging with a zipper prominent on his belly; a small bottle cap of some sort is the only thing this little creature can call his own.  Exploring the lab that served as his womb, 9ís shutter-like eyes gaze out onto a world of desolation and destruction.  9ís introduction to the world of death begins right from the start after discovering his ďfatherĒís body lying nearby.  Spotting a figure in the distance, 9 rushes out to find 2, a similarly-hewn fella out trying to accomplish something in the middle of all the debris.  Surprised to find another like himself, the scatty, brilliant 2 gives 9 a quick FAQ on what he is and what the painted digit on his back means.  Most importantly, 2 lets 9 know he is not alone.  More of the numbered ragamuffins are alive and in hiding.  In the midst of their chat, a horrible metal beast in the shape of a skeletal cat interrupts by toying with the mouse-sized 2, as 2 draws attention away from the newborn 9.  Watching helplessly as 2 is dragged off by the one-eyed cat, 9 decides to find 2ís friends and mount a rescue.  Virulently opposed by 1, the troupeís self-imposed leader, 9 goes off with 5, 2ís best friend, towards the frightening metalworks 9 last saw the mecha-kitty heading toward with 2 clamped between his jaws.  Their showdown with the cat is aided by a fugitive from the numbersí refugee camp.  Exploding onto the scene in whirl of martial arts mastery, 7 shows the helpless males there is more than one way to skin a skinless cat.  The bottle cap 9 had earlier on comes into play as he inadvertently begins the destruction of the numbers by placing the cap in a machine that has been waiting for its spark of life.  Now, more endangered than ever because of 9ís mistake, the small crew must figure out a way to stop the contraption from finding and killing them all despite the forces both external and internal that would thwart them.

Sure, weíve seen the underdog having to take on ďthe machineĒ a zillion times before:  9ís striking comparison is coincidentally - or not so Ė Lord of the Rings, which Acker helped animate and Frodo himself, Elijah Wood provides the voice for the diminutive hero, 9.  What makes 9 so much more than its tale told many times before, is the sense of augury; the strong sense that this is the start of something big for the director Shane Acker, that we are seeing a new and exciting voice in filmmaking that we will hear from again.  Itís the same sense I had while watching Tim Burtonís Beetlejuice for the first time, and that directorís protťgť Henry Selickís The Nightmare Before Christmas.  I also had that same sense watching 9ís co-producer Timur Bekmambetovís Nightwatch.  There is that sense that this film could be at the start of a new era for the state of American animation in general.  As a die-hard fan of Japanese anime, deluged by big-budget and mostly exquisite family fare like Up!, Horton Hears a Who and Kung-Fu Panda, Iím thrilled to see a cartoon that is not marketed strictly for children.  The breakneck pacing, heart-pounding action and villains that thoroughly meet their goal of frightening the heck out of the audience is a sight for these sore, sugar-crusted eyes.  As the Japanese hold, Iím betting the majority of swifter kids would actually enjoy the occasional frights of 9, particularly in light of how very cool the action set pieces are, but I fear for the sanity of overprotective parents.  The film deals in both a factual, tragic way with death and also in a spiritual mien not usually seen in live-action films, much less animated ones.  The increasingly terrifying hordes dispatched by the machine become more savage and surreal and the danger for the tiny characters becomes more palpable.  The deaths hurt, and as in life the small comforts offered never seem enough for these characters we instinctively root for.

I haven't even started on how beautiful the whole enterprise is.  Shane Acker frames his scenes like paintings and uses light and shading in ways that would confound canvas artists, much less computer programmers.  Ackerís stitchpunk characters have the oddness, proportions and strangely adorable ugliness that while certainly related (i.e. burlap baddie, Oogie Boogie from Nightmare Before Christmas), are less of an homage to producer Tim Burtonís animated creatures and drawings than to Eastern European animators like Jan ävankmajer and Brits The Brothers Quay.  There are also more crossover influences; the entirely nightmarish mecha-spider hauntingly recalls one of naughty Sidís mangled creatures from Pixarís Toy Story.  One can practically feel the roughness of the stitchpunkís burlap, as well as the grit and filth of the post-Apocalyptic world they inhabit. 

9 doesnít need the newest 3D gimmicks to involve its audience, the depth and beauty of Ackerís world pulls us in from the first frame.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

9.9.09

 

PS: Click here to read our interview with 9 stars Elijah Wood and Jennifer Connelly and writer/director Shane Acker.

 

 

 

 

 

© 2006-2017 The Diva Review.com

 

 

 

Photos

(Courtesy of  Focus Features)

 

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