Sack puppets may fascinate, but '9' is no 10

Sack puppets may fascinate, but '9' is no 10

September 16th, 2009 by Casey Phillips and Sean Phipps in Chattnow Movies

CASEY PHILLIPS: "9" may be the most-confusing animated film since "Coraline." It's clearly message-driven, but what message it's trying to convey is difficult to surmise.

Is director Shane Acker's tale of a world destroyed by war between mankind and robots supposed to make us wary of over-reliance on technology? Maybe, but that's just a "Terminator" rehash with dolls, and besides, technology also saves the day in the end.

Maybe we're supposed to believe transcendence is the act of giving life to the inanimate. Perhaps, but that didn't work in "Frankenstein," so I didn't buy it here either.

What did I take from it? Burlap sack puppets are somehow going to save us in the future, and not all animated films are kid-friendly.

Fortunately, Acker is a celebrated short-film director, so you won't be confused for long. "9" is his longest project yet, but it only runs an hour and 15 minutes, so a lot of explanatory material must not have made the cut. Frankly, I was baffled.

SEAN PHIPPS: "9" is the oddest, most nonsensical piece of rubbish I've seen in a motion-picture theater since "Pokémon: The First Movie" in 2000. Sure, the graphics are neat, and the horror is what you'd expect for an animated film with a Burtonesque theme, but I haven't a clue what the point was of the thing. Hence the two stars.

Credit is due, however, for the stunning graphics and the pace of the film, which makes "9" tolerable, if only once. I was never bored at all, just terribly confused. There are so many questions left unanswered like, for example, how is a human soul divided, by nine, into sack-puppet parts? Why is "the Beast" a mechanical cat? Why is 6 dressed as if he were imprisoned in a Nazi death camp? Why a burning church? Casey, this is a kids flick, right?

CASEY: Ostensibly, yes, it's a kids movie, but the PG-13 rating is well-earned. There's not overt gore, but stuffing is spilled, and freakish snake/baby doll ... things ... are disemboweled on a regular basis.

Despite the gaping plot holes, the art design is stellar. The models are all imaginative, fantastic and eerie, particularly the aforementioned snake/doll and needle bird. The mostly solid vocals are performed by a cast of established names (Martin Landau, Christopher Plummer) and rising stars (Elijah Wood, Jennifer Connelly). Plummer, in particular, sold his role as the cold-hearted leader of the ... sack puppet brigade.

SEAN: I agree, but I think Elijah Wood's performance as 9 came off a tad half-hearted. I'm glad I had the opportunity to view "9," as it's just reaffirmed my passion for movies like "Coraline" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas." Those were creepy "animated" movies that worked. "9" just didn't do it for me. Also, don't ever do a Google search for "female sack puppet." Trust me.

CASEY: I think we're both just a little too fond of the words "sack puppet." Since I can't quite figure out who its audience is, I can't say I recommend the theatrical release of "9," but I'm interested to check out the inevitable director's cut to see if answers any of my lingering questions.