The Night Out: 9 (2009), or A Step In The Right Direction

10 09 2009

Afternoon, everyone! Long time no see! It seems like only yesterday that I was writing down a review for another movie. And here I am again; weird, right? Pop quiz; when I say the words “rag doll”, “cute-but-creepy”, and “Goth chic”, who do you think of? Tim Burton, you say? I was thinking Don Knots, but let’s go with your idea. Yes Tim Burton, the crown prince of the New Romantics. He has made quite the oeuvre out of darkening the tint on the nation’s rose-colored glasses for years now. He gives us the sappy love story, but he does so with characters who are undead, or deformed, or mentally unbalanced, or something else off-tempo and odd. Most people figured he was responsible for today’s feature, entitled 9, a Goth-chic story about a group of cute-but-creepy rag dolls who live in a world after humanity, but that’s not the case. He only produced it. He really didn’t have that much say in the matter of this film, actually. The man who created it was Shane Acker, a first-time feature director who based the idea off an 11 minute short film he did back in ’05. So for all the people I’ve heard calling it Tim Burton’s new film, give the young man a little credit for creating this fine little gem.

9 takes place in a world after man has been extinguished by his own quest for technological breakthroughs. Details are sketchy, but there was a war against a machine uprising, and the humans lost. The machines, without operators to repair them, also fell away over time, leaving nothing alive in the darkened world. Well, almost nothing. In the ruins of a small town left crumbling after the end of us all, a rag doll awakens for the first time, totally fresh in the face of his decayed surroundings. He is 9, or so the number written on his back tells him. He is in a dilapidated laboratory, which houses the corpse of his creator as well as a mysterious and powerful talisman, the purpose of which eludes him. He leaves the lab, taking the talisman with him, and begins an odyssey that will put him face to face with other dolls like himself, each with their own individual numbers and personalities, as well as an evil mechanical creature known only as The Beast, and will test him in mind, body, and even possibly his soul as we glimpse that the last great shreds of humanity, everything that made us worthwhile and important, lie in the flimsy bodies of animated dolls.

I like this movie; it’s partly because of it’s PG-13 status. I’ve been saying for a long time now that animation needs to get a little darker. If anyone remembers my Resident Evil: Degeneration review, one of the main things that attracted me to that film was its lack of kid-friendliness (and the fact that I’d already played all the damn games…). This called out to me in much the same way. But I found this to be a much more elegant affair, evoking a lot of emotion I wasn’t expecting. There is a lot to say with the medium now that the rating barrier has been partially lifted, and some extremely interesting and poignant things are brought up in the world of 9.The impermanence of our world, the wistful beauty of the human spirit, the bond of true friendship tested by the grip of death; these are things that 9 would have us face with its digital eloquence, and I have to say that I was moved at times by its grim beauty.

But let’s not forget that, at heart, this is an adventure movie. It’s an adventure about exploring an inherited world and the importance of friendship in the hallows of loneliness, and as such there are a lot of journeys to undertake as well as battles to engage. It seems like there is always something going on. Whether they’re getting into fights with mechanical beasts, in a race to save friends, escaping from advancing pursuers, blowing up factories, or listening to records (?), they seem to have a lot of stuff to do in an quick and timely manner.

At times it felt like it was perhaps TOO quick and timely, like I was missing something. But at a breezy 81 minutes, it appears that there is no time to waste. I understand the reason for their brevity, but there’s a huge world to explore, lots to see and do, and I feel like I barely scratched the surface of the post-apocalypse. Not to mention the character development leaved a little something to be desired. Friendships are seemingly founded on the fact that they look the same and that they are not mechanical. From that, it looked to me like the deep bonds of friendship that supposedly galvanized them were little more than instruments to move the plot forward.

But the voice acting is quite good. Although, yet again, nobody in the celebrity cast decided to use a unique voice for their character, it’s not terribly problematic if they don’t. This is a movie more for the stillness and quietness of a husk of a world, not Elijah Wood aping his best Kermit the Frog. Out of the celebrities who speak plainly into the microphone, though, Elijah Wood and John C. Reilly shine with their moments. They end up being the closest friends out of all the dolls, so their dialogs, although brief, portray a lot of feeling in them. Reilly is the MVP of switching on and off between funny and serious, and rarely does he miss his tonal mark. He gets it right again as his character, a one-eyed doll known as 5, takes on a shy, sympathetic light. And Elijah has that benign innocence about his voice that makes him sound like a child asking adults where babies come from. It’s perfect for his character, 9, who is the youngest of the dolls and has a lot to learn.

So I recommend this dark and lovely animated picture. It’s PG-13, so all you tweeny-boppers who read my reviews will have to sit this one out (or sneak in, I don’t care), but for us super-cool adults, 9 is a movie that will challenge you. For my tastes, it didn’t challenge me enough, and I felt that 81 minutes was a little skimpy for an epic post-apocalyptic adventure, but it’s a step in the right direction for adult animation, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Mr. Acker has more than earned my repeat business, and if he continues this trend, I envision a truly amazing career ahead for him. I give 9 8 Tim Burton-less director’s chairs out of 10. He was ONLY a producer…

Tomorrow I take Goregirl up on her advice and examine the first Coen Brothers film, Raising Arizona! Until then!