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9 a gorgeous but flawed mini-epic

by Glen Baity

9 a gorgeous but flawed mini-epicThe strugglebegins in thevery first scene:You will want tolove 9 far morethan you areactually able tolove it.That’s becausethis postapocalyptic,computeranimatedadventure is — visually, at least —in elite company. 9 looks as good asanything Pixar has ever produced,and nearly everything about itslook, from the character designto the luminous color palette, iscaptivating. It could have soared, but a pedestrian story drags itback down to earth.And what a scorched earthit is. 9 takes place in a worldwhere humans are freshlyextinct thanks to that perpetuallurking menace, the violentrobot uprising. Before the lastman on earth dies, he plantsthe spark of life into ninesmall rag dolls, mostly meekcreatures that spend their dayshiding from the homicidalrobot sentries that roam thewasteland. The film picks upwith the birth of Number 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood), who comes into the world alone, disoriented and unable to speak. He throws therag dolls’ world into upheaval whenhe arrives bearing a mysterious,powerful artifact.As a PG-13 animated movie, 9 issomething of an anomaly. It’s a short,heavy picture, and parents shouldpay more attention to the rating thanthe appealing art style. 9 is definitelynot for the little ones, with its darkthemes and abundant death. There’sno shortage of animation that appealssimultaneously to adults and children,but there’s very little aimed largely atan older audience that also enjoys awide theatrical release like this. Given that, it feels like a waste that 9 is, in many ways, thoroughlyordinary, even sub-par. Clocking in atwell under an hour and a half, it feelsalmost as if 9 has had a number ofscenes removed, especially the onesthat establish the culture of the dollsprior to Number 9’s arrival. Too muchin their interaction implies characterdevelopment that simply isn’t presentin the film, though the film benefitsgreatly from lively voice work byChristopher Plummer, John C. Reillyand Martin Landau.If it were geared toward kids, itmight be easier to forgive the stockcharacters and all-too-familiar storyline. But 9 is clearly designed fora more sophisticatedaudience, so why doesit take so few chanceswith its plot, whichplays like a mercifullyshorter version of thefinal Matrix movie? It’sa frustration soothedby the wildly creativeproduction design andthe spirited directionof Shane Acker, whoexpanded 9 to a featurebased on his own shortfilm. He enlists thehelp of Monster House writer PamelaPettler, who succeeds in giving thefilm the feel, if not the substance, ofan epic.Despite its flaws, 9 is one of therare movies I’d recommend strictlyon the quality of its visuals, which tella story all their own. Acker was a filmstudent when he started crafting thesecharacters, and his attention to detailand obvious affection for his creationpromises great things in the future. 9isn’t the best film he’ll ever make, butit’s an okay place to start.To comment on this article, send youre-mail to glen.baity@gmail.com. ! Log onto YesWeekly.com— click on the “Flicks”section. Then go to“What’s Showing”Keep up with the latest movienews!

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