In a way, I wish 9 was more weird. On first blush, Shane Acker’s animated film is quite unusual—a post-apocalyptic universe where rag dolls imbued with souls fight man-made machines run amok. But once you get past the whole “whoah, our heroes are rag dolls” thing, it’s pretty conventional stuff. Sometimes it reminded me of Wall-E (a good thing, I suppose) and sometimes it reminded me of The Transformers (very definitely a bad thing) and sometimes it reminded me of Coraline, which also featured a a creepy doll universe and was also (not coincidentally) executive produced by Tim Burton.
The post-apocalyptic world, for example, while beautifully animated, resembles pretty much every other post-apocalyptic world I’ve seen in films—blown out windows, dusty streets, eerily abandoned monuments. The rag doll heroes—instead of names, their scientist creator (now dead) has given them numbers—are archetypes. Our hero 9 (the voice of Elijah Wood), is brave, curious, and naïve. His best friend 5 (John C. Reilly) is loyal and dutiful. The fretful elder 1 (Christopher Plummer) rules with fear. Beyond that, there’s 1’s witless muscle who is shaped to resemble the Michelin Tire Man (I’m not sure if it was intentional or not, but it’s damn distracting); a spunky female warrior who befriends 9 (Jennifer Connelly); a sweet, but slightly crazy seer named 6 (Crispin Glover, natch) who makes ink blot drawings of his visions (they resemble the work of illustrator Ralph Steadman); and even a pair of mischievous, child-like twins who provide comic relief.
One thing that perplexed me: The film’s apparent references to the Holocaust. With their giant eyes, skinny frames, bald heads, and assigned numbers, some of the rag dolls evoke concentration camp victims (to drive the point home, 6 wears striped pajamas). The military leader who first commissioned the machines even stands in front of a flag with a swastika-type insignia. What is Acker getting at here? We’re raging against the soul-crushing nature of technology, right? Not man’s inhumanity to his fellow man. Acker is mixing his apocalpytic metaphors! I hate when that happens.