This is conflicting: I always root for the small film, the independent spirit, the lobby that seems to have the most creativity, and yet I feel morally compelled to rip to shreds a film that could have been more than one but that never was one to begin with. 9 is both. Shane Acker's small budget short film, also called 9, had immense warmth and oodles of creativity. It was a dark yet fascinating animation film that set the internet ablaze when it released.
There's every reason to root for a full-length treatment of that high concept supported by Peter Jackson and Timur Bekmambetov on one hand. On the other, 2009's 9 is nothing but a retread of that high concept over and over and over again, and loses all of its originality by stretching the characters into nothingness.
A small sentient robot made of cloth and metal (called 'Stitchpunk') wakes up in a laboratory, with only the number 9 written on his back, that gives him a clue as to who he is. Looking outside, he sees a world destroyed by atomic warfare, with no sign of life, and with an environment full of hostile fully-metallic robots. He finds out that there are 8 more like him, and he sets out to find them.
That is the moment the film chooses to go all predictable and ho-hum on us. First, a giant robot attacks the Stitchpunks, and they fight back with tiny weapons. The robot takes away one of them, and 9 makes a speech about getting him back. The others tell him he's as nutty as a fruitcake, so he convinces them to accompany him, and they set about to save their friend.
Subsequently they are attacked again, and one of them is taken away. 9 makes a speech about saving this pal, and they set out again. They are attacked AGAIN! And one of them is stolen AGAIN! Sigh, the speech comes again, and they set out to save the newly stolen one again.
The brilliance of the short film is sought to be converted into a full-length feature simply be repeating that pattern. The characters are equally silly - adding voices has actually worked against this film, as the fantastic actors have nothing to do here, simply mouthing lines that are written for a repetitive format. The arcs simply don't exist - the entire Stitchpunk existence is about fighting these robots. They never question their existence or place in the world, but simply fight one battle after another. This makes the final denouement that much more shallow, considering it has no emotional arc it follows through and hence no character import.
I wish I could say that visually the film is just as bland and unimaginative, and wash my hands off this deal. The truth, though, is that Shane Acker is a director with immense creativity in character design. The robotic creatures look fantastically evil, and the world is completely dark and thoroughly fascinating.
The visual design of the Stitchpunks is beautiful and completely stunning. The character expressions really sing, because of the way they are created, and the animation is of top-notch quality. And the movie's overall design stirs the imagination like nothing other, and Acker has to be applauded for such an original vision.
If only the writing of the film was there to support this original work. As it stands, it is a simply a dark children's flick that is fun to watch, but shallow and completely unremarkable. The entertainment value of the film is not under question, but what is disappointing is that a strong vision has been diluted by the decision to not try and break free of the small-movie mentality.