Animated movies have reached such heights of visual sophistication that we’ve come to take the most astonishing feats of technical virtuosity for granted. Which is all to the good. Now that we’ve stopped gasping at animators’ skill at rendering fur or water or snow, we’re more likely to appreciate their ability as storytellers.
That’s where director Shane Acker falls down with 9, the computer-animated sc-fi fantasy expanded from the 11-minute Oscar-nominated short film he made while still a student at UCLA. His film looks fabulous, but the narrative is too slack to keep us gripped.
A muddled dystopian fable about the dangers of technology, Acker’s story comes across as Wall·E meets Terminator. Instead of a loveable lonely robot, however, his protagonist is a rag doll-like creature with goggle eyes, a zip down his front and a number 9 stitched on his back. Voiced by Elijah Wood, #9 awakens for the first time to find himself in a shattered post-apocalyptic world in which machines have wiped out every human, including his scientist creator. Yet #9 does encounter a small band of similar dolls, numbered from 1 to 8 and voiced by the likes of John C Reilly, Jennifer Connelly and Christopher Plummer. With the self-replicating robots that finished off humanity still on the rampage, Plummer’s #1, self-appointed leader of the rag-tag band, cautions lying low. But #9 is made of pluckier stuff and sets off on a quest to defeat the machines and discover the secrets of his existence.
Acker is good at creating a sense of menace and his monsters are genuinely chilling: the hulking red-eyed robot known as the Beast and an even more terrifying monster called the Seamstress are the stuff of nightmares. Which makes 9 far too scary for small children. But if you’re going to leave the kids at home, you might not feel it’s worth trekking to the cinema to see an animated tale that feels overstretched at 79 minutes – no matter how visually impressive.
On general release from 28th October.