Nine gives good characters, but lacks story line

By Nicholas Ortolani

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3674974676_c61f977184Do not let the friendly-looking rag dolls fool you – “9” is not a kid’s movie.

The plot of the film is incredibly contrived, and, at times, tests both the audience’s sense of logic and empathy, which is a shame, considering that the art direction is brilliant.

The story follows #9 (voiced by Elijah Wood), a miniature life form who looks like a small burlap body suit, which was created by a mad scientist on the eve of the destruction of the entire human race.

Because our main character is #9, it is safe to assume that there are eight others to accompany him. He meets one of them, #2 (Martin Landau), in the barren wasteland that once used to be human civilization. However, #2 is almost immediately captured by a mechanical life form resembling what a cat produced by the Skynet Company would look like. #9 then wanders along until he is spotted by #5 (John C. Reilly). #5 brings #9 into a church sanctuary, created by the seemingly wise and undeniably old #1 (Christopher Plummer).

We quickly learn that #1 favors isolation and the illusion of safety over progress, and he chastises #5 for bringing an outsider into his sanctuary. Upon learning that #2 has been taken, #1 immediately assumes #2 has been killed. #9 is not convinced, and leads a mission to find and rescue #2, accompanied by #5. Along the way, they run into #7 (Jennifer Connolly), and twins #3 and #4, who are silent vocally, but speak volumes with their body language.

What follows are a series of complex, and frequently disorienting action sequences. The script mimics an average action movie script, with the dialog only barely pushing the plot forward. At its heart, “9” is nothing more than an action movie. It attempts to explore deeper themes, but rarely succeeds. What little story the movie has simply serves to connect one action sequence to another.

One relieving aspect of the movie are the characters themselves. Each one has a distinct personality, which manifests itself not only in the careful voice acting, but also in their physical appearances. They are effective and convincing as being more than simply small sacks which possess the gift of life. As audience members, we understand why #6 (quite appropriately, Crispin Glover) was destined to be “the crazy one” – his maker decided to give him mismatched eyes and a jagged black-and-white pattern.

The film’s overall art direction is nothing short of breathtaking. The textures and environments have depth and character, while still appearing to be animated. This film does not try to recreate reality with its drawings – it creates its own world. The vision is neither modern nor historical; rather, it seems like what the inhabitants of 1945 Europe might have envisioned the world to be like 20 years later. This bleak, steampunk-inspired Universe is part of the appeal of the film. Unfortunately, the appearance is only skin deep, and the film isn’t much more profound.  

The best scene in the movie is possibly the opening, which is right after #9 has been “born.” We watch as #9 discovers the world around him, learns to walk and explores his very sense of being. This scene is beautiful, as we observe life born into a world of destruction. However, the film doesn’t explore this idea any further. Rather, the movie abandons its existential thinking early on in exchange for flashy action sequences. Outside of the first scene, there is nothing familiar about this world, which makes it impossible to relate to the subject matter of the film.

In comparison to “Up,” which tells a story that many can relate to, “9,” unfortunately, is all exaggeration and very little heart.

Nick Ortolani can be reached at [email protected].