“9” is set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland that is visually inspiring, exquisitely crafted, unflinching (for an animated PG-13 movie), and frustratingly vapid. It’s one thing to see a bloated summer blockbuster indulge in such technical indulgence at the expense of story and character (I’m looking at you “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”), but for a small movie like “9” which was based on an animated short film and comes out of Universal’s art house distribution division, Focus Features, “9” only cares about its technical and visual achievements and forgets its story and characters.
Humanity is over in the sense that all humans are now dead; in a “be-a-nice-person” sense of the word, that falls on the side of nine rag dolls imbued with different (and one-sided) personalities who diverge on whether to live in fear or bravely journey into the wasteland and discover their purpose. I say “bravely” because they’re being hunted by big, mean, mechanical beasties. 9 (Elijah Wood) is the last doll created by a scientist who dies soon after and he’s never conflicted about being on the side of the brave and thoughtful.
In fact, there’s no conflict in any of the nine characters. I expect that from their foes; cold-heartless machines that destroyed the world and own its charred remains, have a single-purpose or ruling the world (although like all evil machines, there never seems to be a next step after that goal). But the nine are as shallow as their enemies, each having a simplistic personality that has never grown or changed since their creation. While we stare in awe at the world they’ve created to survive by taking every tiny object and re-purposing them to create exhilarating and inspiring tools and designs, we’re left wondering how such creative ingenuity comes from such one-dimensional beings. How can the nine have such brilliant imaginations and never show an iota of curiosity or conflict in their world? You could argue that the first eight had grown accustomed to their surroundings but we’re present at the birth of 9 and I couldn’t tell you why he was special except that he watched a video that explained everything to him.
Perhaps the one-sided characters may be acceptable if they had a fascinating plot but it’s not only as simplistic but also repetitive. “9” is stuck in a loop where the characters go to find and save one of their brethren, they fail to save that doll but then someone else gets taken, they run away to survive, and then they go to find the new missing doll and that’s pretty much the movie. If you just zoned out and focused on the setting and listened to the perfect sound design, you wouldn’t miss anything. When “9” hits DVD they should have an option where you can turn off the dialogue and just listen to the sounds and watch this wonderful, broken, intricate world without paying attention to the dull characters which inhabit it.
Rating: C minus