Rich in concept and atmosphere, there is a childlike innocence to the story, but the metaphysical ending grows too cryptic to completely satisfy.
#9 (voiced by Elijah Wood) awakens to a strange world where everything seems to have been made for people larger than himself. A dead man is on the floor, papers are scattered all about, and the wind outside is howling. Making his way to the window while seemingly learning to walk at the same time, he throws open the shutters to discover a ruined world beyond. Then, just below, 9 sees movement… another, like himself. He is not alone, but what is his purpose?
Producers Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov gave director Shane Acker all the rope he needed to hang himself with. Fortunately, the world is too full of imagination and wonder set against a post-apocalyptic background for anyone with any imagination at all to resist. The story is simple and straight-forward enough on a basic level, but there is a metaphysical undertone which builds all on its own. Toward the very end, both the heroes and the audiences are given some very cryptic instructions as to what needs to be done, but watching those instructions carried out feels as though we missed something very important. These animated sock puppets might be clever, but at what point did the sack puppets suddenly outsmart the viewers?
With a running time just under eighty minutes, the first battle against the beast seems simple and straight forward enough, culminating in a mostly satisfying ending before a new challenge suddenly arises. It is at that “Now what the hell are we going to do?” moment that the story loses stability (even if the visuals just keep getting better). It’s just that there are far too many interpretations for what must be done and what happens next. Animation fans who remember a similar fallout from Squaresoft Studios’ Final Fantasy, The Spirits Within may share a similar frustration and, in a few ways, a very similar ending. One of the key differences between a book and a film is that, with written text, your imagination fills in the visual gaps. Film, however, visually defines the collaborative interpretation of the filmmakers, but unlike European and Asian audiences, North Americans want the cold facts to draw a line between here and there when what they see doesn’t provide the necessary answers.
A stunning vocal cast included Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, John C. Reilly (is it easier to count the movies he isn’t in?), Crispin Glover, Jennifer Connelly, Fred Tatasciore, Alan Oppenheimer, Tom Kane, and Helen Wilson. Each of the nine main characters (including two that didn’t really talk at all) defined a unique personality trait while still managing to look well rounded, not an easy feat with so many characters. Perhaps with the script locked early on and deadlines looming, there may have been an additional scene or two designed to better explain the task at hand or what secrets there were. As a video game or an actual series, the potential of the world of 9 holds much more promise, or to paraphrase from #2, there are treasures among the trash if you know where to look. The interpretation of the purpose and the tasks set out for these little heroes, well, that takes a lot more faith, and as with anything metaphysical, is highly subject to interpretation.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)