9-1Before we begin, a brief warning to all parents considering taking the wee ones to see Focus Features’ latest, 9. Be certain that whatever kids you’re taking are stout of heart, because there are some creatures within this film–and the actions they take against the main characters–that may seriously frighten younger children. The film’s rated PG-13 for a reason, so consider yourself duly noted.

As for 9 itself–only the second animated film from Focus following their highly successful Coraline–the movie is amazingly entertaining and visually striking. In spite of its ending, which left me sort of flat, it’s very possible this film might make it onto my Top 5 list at the end of the year.

9 takes place in a not-too-distant future, wherein humanity has been betrayed and destroyed by the highly intelligent machines they’ve built. Any similarities to the Terminator franchise end there however, immediately upon the introduction of the titular hero (voiced by Elijah Wood)–a stitchwork figure only inches tall, brought to life by an infusion of part of the very soul of its creator…the scientist who created the machines’ A.I., ironically to usher in an age of peace. The peace has been achieved, all right: the peace of the grave, brought to vivid life via scenes of ruined landscapes and brief glimpses of dead bodies, among them a mother still clutching her child. 

As 9 makes his way across the charred land, he is at first befriended by another stitchwork being named 2 (voice of Martin Landau). After an attack by a feral mechanoid, 9 is then found by 1 (voice of Christopher Plummer), leader of a small group of stitchworks, who remain in hiding, fearful of discovery by the beast that attacked 9 and 2 (all the stitchworks have numbers on their back, correlating to the order in which they were created). Although 1 chooses to keep his people hidden, 9 is insistent on traveling into the vast wasteland to rescue 2, who was taken by the beast. Joined by 5 (voice of John C. Reilly), the two set off on their quest, eventually meeting up with the brave and heroic 7 (voice of Jennifer Connelly), who does her best to help them reach their goal.

9_25From the outset, the CGI for 9 the film is absolutely astounding, and never falters in the slightest. Attitude Studio and the other visual effects artists who worked on this have set a new bar for what can be achieved, and of course it figures that Tim Burton (James and the Giant Peach, Cabin Boy) would be just the right producer to bring director Shane Acker’s (The Hangnail, The Astounding Talents of Mr. Grenade) and writer Pamela Pettler’s (Corpse Bride, Monster House) somewhat grim animated tale to the screen (I give producer Timur Bekmambetov as little credit as possible. He gave us 2007’s abysmal Wanted, and is intent on foisting Wanted 2 on audiences in 2011).

For only his first feature, Acker has a firm grip on the material (his first two projects were shorts), although as good as 9 is, it’s a little early to be calling him a “visionary” director as the trailers put forth…the man’s no Zack Snyder, at least not yet. The voice cast is excellent on every level–although it’s a hilarious yet possibly unintentional in-joke that Crispin Glover (Back to the Future, Beowulf) plays the possibly mentally unstable stitchwork 6. And the music by Deborah Lurie (George Lucas In Love, Whirlygirl) is dark, moody and heroic when appropriate. It’s a challenging soundtrack for children to sit through, no doubt.

9_31There are only a few problems I had with Pamela Pettler’s story, yet they may not fully be her fault. In the trailer, the stitchwork beings’ creator (voiced by the aptly named Alan Oppenheimer) says “9, you shall protect the future.” This would lead one to believe that 9 will somehow save humanity in some way, but the story doesn’t fully concern itself with this, as the focus is primarily on the rescue of his own stitchwork fellows and keeping them safe from the machines that are still around. As I said earlier, the ending also left me flat because it didn’t seem to be the payoff to which the story was leading. However, considering the context of the dark fable–and there is quite a bit of death in it–the ending does fit in. Still, these are minor points which an audience can easily overlook, especially as cheers and applause arose on more than one occasion during my screening. It’s been a while since that’s happened, but 9 is certainly worthy of it.

9 is an awesome achievement in the realm of CGI, and is a thoroughly engrossing story. Although it clocks in at barely just over an hour, it’s well worth the price of admission.

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