Shane Acker is a director I feel has so much potential. This was a director who not only was able to get his student film to be awarded a Student Academy Award for his animated short while still at UCLA, but he was also able to get it nominated for an Oscar as well along with other big animated shorts that came out that year. One person who also saw potential in him was Tim Burton. With his help, Acker was able to take that short film he made at UCLA and make it into a full-length feature film in 2009. That feature was aptly titled "9". While watching this film, I could see the huge potential Acker had has a director and can see him doing great films in the future. I just wish that his debut film was a lot stronger than what we got in the end. This is a film with lots of ambition and potential but unfortunately suffers from flaws that just hold it back from being great. I was sad because the film started so beautifully.
In a post-apocalyptic future where machines have declared war on humanity, a scientist (Alan Oppenheimer) crafts nine rag dolls each with his soul to help save humanity. After creating the ninth rag doll, he dies rendering humanity extinct. The ninth rag doll who is known as 9 (Elijah Wood) wakes up and discovers a mysterious talisman in the scientist's lab and ventures out into the world. There he discovers another rag doll named 2 (Martin Landau) who he quickly becomes friends with, though 2 is eventually taken by one of the machines. 9 is also taken to where some of the other ragdolls are including the friendly 5 (John C. Riley), the crazy 6 (Crispin Glover), the tough 8 (Fred Tatasciore), and the stern leader 1 (Christopher Plummer). 1 tells 9 that the outside world is dangerous and that he and the others should stay safe in the sanctuary while waiting for the other machines to die. Not wanting to leave 2 alone, 9 and 5 go off to save him but end up making things worse when 9 accidentally wakes up a giant-killing machine with the talisman which ends up killing 2. Although they are saved by the rebellious 7 (Jennifer Connely) and run into the silent twins 3 and 4, the other ragdolls have to figure out how to stop the giant machine before it's too late.
I could tell that Acker did develop a really good story for this film. It's dark, twisted, and very ambitious for an animated movie. We don't get a lot of animated movies that are as dark and mature as this one and I applaud the crew for taking some different than what we have come to expect for animated movies. However, I feel like it's a film that felt rather uninspired and sometimes even felt like a video game a lot. Throughout most of the film, I felt I was watching cutscenes from a video game and even some of the battles that felt like they were being played by an unseen figure. When I go into a film, I expect it to feel like a film and not a video game. Not only that, some parts are very slow and drag. There are multiple scenes where we see 9 arguing 1 about wanting to take a chance and 1 refusing feeling it's too dangerous. It started to get old after a while. As far as the animation goes, it is spectacular. This was easily the high point of the entire movie right from the opening shot. It's beautifully detailed and gorgeously striking. Even the world itself has a darkness and an uneasy tone that makes it feel real and I felt it was just a visual marvel. The animators were giving top-notch work with this film. As for the characters, they're mostly okay but nothing spectacular. 9 is a protagonist we've seen who's curiosity can get the best of him, but he cares about his friends and puts others' lives before his while 5 is his supportive friend who is there to help him. I did like 7 though with her being the bravest in the group and being able to take down machines on her own and 3 and 4 were very interesting as well since neither talk but both could express a lot of emotion through their actions and eyes. Even 6 had an interesting side to him as he seemed crazy doing drawings that meant nothing though he was unfortunately underutilized. I really couldn't stand 1 though. This was a character who was stubborn throughout the entire film and just wanted to stick to his old traditions and it just drove me crazy fast. He also reminded me too much of another character Plummer played, Charles Muntz from "Up." Though Muntz was the character I found more interesting since he was driven to insanity over greed and it made him a villain that works. 1 just comes off as stale and dry.
Honestly, "9" is a film that had so much ambition behind it, but the story feels rather uninspired, and some of the characters weren't as interesting as others, though the animation was beautifully realized. I hope that Acker goes on to direct another film after this because he hasn't made anything else in ten years. He was to direct an animated movie with the video game company Valve, but that seemed to go nowhere. Maybe he will direct again someday, but we'll just have to wait and see.