The animated sci-fi film 9 — not to be confused with this summer's non-animated sci-fi District 9, or the upcoming non-animated non-sci-fi musical Nine — is a perfect example of a thin idea stuffed and stuffed with filler until it loses much of its charm.
Shane Acker's film is built on his 2005 short animation of the same title, an almost magical and mysterious little movie about animated rag dolls in a post-apocalyptic future struggling to "survive" the terrors of their ruined world.
It didn't explain itself. It didn't even have dialogue. It was still the darling of many a film festival — a cryptic, arresting vision of a world gone wrong, one that star filmmakers Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov got behind to see that Acker was able to make a full-length feature out of it.
About all the new film, which opens Wednesday, has in common with that original is its brevity. Well, and its look. The robotic rag dolls are as "animated" as ever. But the story is a tiresome mash-up of earlier sci-fi and makes the movie play like a cut-rate WALL-E.
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A doll numbered 9 awakens in a ruined world-after-war. A scientist gave him life, but now the tinkerer is dead and the doll must fend for himself. Out in the big, bad, barren world, he finds other sentient dolls, chatting, improvising and surviving the attacks of "The Beast," a robotic dog-thingy.
So 9, who is given the voice of Elijah Wood, takes up with 5 (John C. Reilly) and tries to convince him to go rescue 2 (Martin Landau) aided by the warrior doll 7 (Jennifer Connelly). Stodgy, fear-mongering old 1 (Christopher Plummer) preaches fear of the unknown and of knowledge itself.
"Sometimes fear is the appropriate response," he counsels.
Sure enough, "The Machine" is awakened to attack them and show them more evils of science, "Sanctuary" is lost and "The Source" is sought — all phrases and concepts deeply rooted in sci-fi lore but stitched together willy-nilly here. It's anti-religion, anti-science, pro-science, pro-humanity, a little mystical and supernatural to boot.
While the look is as arresting as ever, this 9 is a several digits shy of the original in wit, execution and mystery.