Dark enough for either boring or scaring small children, Shane Acker's animated allegory 9 is also thematically slender enough to disappoint grownups. Acker hasn't expanded his Oscar nominated 2005 short film as much as padded it.
Now we have an explanation for the existence of a race of rag dolls in a post-apocalyptic world, and unlike Acker's short, they speak with celebrity voices like every other 'toon. One of the dolls is 9 (Elijah Wood), getting his first look at the world, or what's left of it, shortly after his human creator died.
9 isn't alone. First, there's a mecha-endoskeletal cat creature with glowing eyes and an appetite for destruction to escape. 9's attempts to kill the beast are aided by other dolls: the wise Numbers 1 (Christopher Plummer) and 2 (Martin Landau), chummy 6 (John C. Reilly) and resistance fighter 7 (Jennifer Connelly). The mecha-cat sucks the souls from its victims, providing a quest for freedom that was the extent of Acker's short film.
The feature-length version of 9 adds the back story of this Armageddon, a war between mankind and out-of-control technology. Any resemblance to Judgment Day in the Terminator series is unfortunate. Acker tosses in a couple more beasts; a robotic pterodactyl and the Machine, the brain of the enemy, to belabor the point that humans are sealing their doom with each new discovery.
This revolutionary message is blunted when you consider that without technology, Acker wouldn't have the means to create such a visually impressive movie. He's biting the hand programming his success, with a plot more alienating than the obesity angle of WALL-E.
9 works best as a futuristic chase flick, with the heroes scrambling through wreckage to survive. The action sequences are unique purely for their unusual combatants; the stitched burlap dolls and monsters resembling daydream doodles come to life. Pamela Pettler's screenplay is unremarkable except for a false ending to the strains of Over the Rainbow spoofing the typical happy endings of animated films.
Acker's short was a minor masterpiece. His movie is a major disappointment, and unlikely to win admirers outside animation fanboy circles.
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.
* * *
Director: Shane Acker
Cast: Voices of Elijah Wood, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Martin Landau, Christopher Plummer, Crispin Glover
Screenplay: Pamela Pettler
Rating: PG-13; violence, scary images
Running time: 79 min.