Review in a Hurry: In the tradition of old-school fairy tales, 9 is grim! Elijah Wood and Jennifer Connelly do some tip-top voice work in an impressive and gothic Tim Burton collaboration about nine vulnerable creatures in a terrifying world, but they've often overwhelmed by the Message.
The Bigger Picture: This is a flawed gem. The script is bland with an amateur political message tacked onto it, but 9 is still something to marvel at. Animator Shane Acker's sinewy creatures, voracious metallic monsters, and scorched planet web together to create stunning visuals and a haunting story.
See, nine tiny puppets spun from burlap with thimbles for eyes and fountain pen tips for fingers have to survive in the aftermath of an apocalypse. To seek refuge from the mechanical beasts who terrorize them, some of the nine live in an abandoned church under the tyrannical rule of a withered old puppet, named #1 (Christopher Plummer). The puppet with the most moxie, #9 (Wood) sets off to destroy the monsters but must find the source of their creation to be successful.
Sleuthing out the origins of the monsters pushes the story along, but the true delight of 9 comes from watching the wide bottomed critters wobble across the screen. Their exaggerated, otherworldly features are full of expression and personality.
The biggest frustration with 9 arises from the puppets' ability to speak. When they're are silent and able to navigate through their spooky world without silly dialogue spilling from their mouths, they are at their most compelling. (A pair of mute twins, scuttling through wreckage trying to salvage and restore scraps from the past, are the film's most captivating characters.)
9's allegories about modern society are heavy handed. #1 wears a large triangular hat in the style of the Pope and #9 scouts for clues by the glow of an orphaned light bulb. So the clash between repression and curiosity is overstated but nonetheless ambitious. With such a sturdy first showing, Acker's future in animation is nothing but promising.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Even at 81 minutes the movie feels overly long—by the middle, the flick is running on fumes.