An award-winning animated student film has been turned into a full-length feature with intricately-designed visuals but a story-line that feels stuck together with chewing gum and Scotch tape. Tim Burton protege Shane Acker has proven a better student of the letter of his mentor’s work than the spirit. Burton’s films are macabre, even grotesque. His characters may be haunted (literally or metaphorically), tortured (ditto), or murderous (ditto again), but they are as rich and complex as his strikingly imaginative visuals. Acker permits his images to overwhelm the story and the result is a film that is too dark for children and too thin for anyone else.
9 is a little burlap rag doll (voice of Elijah Wood) come to life who finds eight other doll-creatures who appear to be the only sentient survivors of an apocalypse that has extinguished all living things on earth. They are being stalked by the same murderous machines that wiped out their human creators and the movie’s greatest strength is the design and operation of these contraptions. Indeed, it is impossible not to think that the film is more interested in them than it is in its ostensible heroes.
The story keeps getting in the way of our connecting to the earnest little figures whose quest is murky at first and then undermined by an unsatisfying conclusion. “9” only gets a 6.