GENRE: CGI sci-fi adventure
THE PITCH: In a post-apocalyptic city, robotic ragdolls (called “stitchpunks” in the production notes), including inquisitive 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood), find remnants of the war machines that destroyed humanity. It’s like Pinocchio vs. Terminator.
MONEY SHOTS: The film’s basically built around a series of set pieces of the stitchpunks fighting mechanical monsters, including the Cat Beast, which resembles a bionic feline skeleton; the hypnotic serpentine Seamstress; and the Fabrication Machine, which looks like a jerry-rigged version of one of the Sentinels from the Matrix movies. They’re cool, even though the action scenes prove somewhat repetitive, and feature two jumping-from-the-fireball clichés.
BEST LINE: “I don’t mind having just one eye. It allows me to concentrate on one thing at a time,” remarks mild-mannered 5 (John C. Reilly). Most of the other dialogue is too bland for me to remember.
BODY COUNT: Partial views of three human corpses. Several of 9’s cohorts suffer seemingly deadly attacks, but how lifeless they are isn’t clear until the ending.
FASHION STATEMENT: Half of the stitchpunks appear to be made of coarse burlap, and 9 has a large zipper running from chin to crotch. (Don’t you hate it when you can see the zipper on alien costumes?) Elderly 2 (Martin Landau) wears a candle and spoon on his head as a modified miner’s helmet, and acrobatic fighter 7 (Jennifer Connelly) sports a bird skull as a helmet with decorative feathers.
POP REFERENCES: The stitchpunks play an iconic Judy Garland song on an old phonograph, which accompanies one of the film’s weirdest images. Flashbacks feature mechanical war machines reminiscent of War of the Worlds' tripods.
“JUST SAY NO” MESSAGE: At one point, hulking, dimwitted 8 gets high by running a magnet over his head. (Or maybe it’s like he’s masturbating — it could go either way.) It’s really the film’s only laugh.
BETTER THAN THE ORIGINAL? Yes and no. Director Shane Acker’s Oscar-nominated 2005 short of the same name depicted a cat-and-mouse battle between 9 and the Beast. The feature film (produced by Tim Burton) expands Acker’s vision of post-apocalyptic junk and mechanical monsters in intriguing ways, but the limp dialogue and voice acting make you miss the original’s silent approach.
HEY, WAIT A MINUTE: Is it me, or are all CGI monsters animated to roar in exactly the same way? The Cat Beast here, like the Cloverfield monster, the creature that chased Kirk on the ice planet in Star Trek, even one of the alien animals in the new Avatar trailer, all hold their head at the same angle and shriek at their prey in identical fashions. Maybe that CGI program is shareware.
THE BOTTOM LINE: With so many computer-animated cartoon features devoted to pop-savvy kiddie comedies about talking animals, it’s refreshing to see a CGI adventure with a unique vision. Acker’s makeshift, Rube Goldberg-style inventions and landscapes can be fascinating. That said, 9 is PG-13 for a reason, and may be too intense for little kids and too dark for many adults.