"Toy-minator 9: Revenge of the Sock-Monkeys"
As a short, it works gang-busters (that Oscar-nominated video is below, but I would caution watching it as it's one big Spoiler for the feature). In long-form, though, "9" is a bit trying. The "post-apocalyptic steam-punk in a toy store" vibe is still there—the charm of that concept cannot be denied (one feels as if one is watching a hi-lo-tech version of kids making up a plush-toy story on the play-room floor).
But, beyond that design and the undeniable cleverness and detail of the animation, I kept sitting waiting for something to make me like it and was left wanting the entire movie.
It's hard to pinpoint what makes this story—of living sock-puppets woven together as a "Magnificent 7" style unit to take on a marauding machine entity—start to unravel. There is a dissatisfying push/pull in the execution between being "different" while embracing a conventionally commercial narrative. The audience is dropped into a strange new world of glum fantasy figures without a word of explanation, and then 3/4 of the way through the film—at that point when the concept has been accepted—a half-hearted "woo-woo" answer for it all is tied into the "real" world. Perhaps it's the voices applied to the characters that takes some of the short's silent-movie charm away from its big brother (although Elijah Wood, Christopher Plummer, John C. Reilly, a babbling Crispin Glover—as per usual—Jennifer Connelly and Martin Landau all do game, if ultimately needless, work). I think "9" would have been better—certainly braver—to tell its story without dialogue. But for one reason or another—maybe a business decision not to lose the kids?—there is a running narrative of what is being seen on-screen.
Perhaps it is because the whole movie is 90 minutes of the least interesting part of any Disney cartoon—the battle between good and evil that culminates in relationships cemented and some large architecture in flames. That happens twice in "9" and by the time all the clockwork gymnastics the numbered characters must perform in their struggles cease, there is hardly any catharsis, just smoke in rubble (released so close to 9-11, thanks a bunch).
Finally, one is left with a muted despair that something so imaginative right down to its nap, is finally just a one-off of a "Terminator" or "Transformers" movie—plucky underdogs against an unstoppable mechanistic foe with a mystical MacGuffin to help them out. For a movie so concerned about souls, it ultimately has only the soul of a machine.
One should not be duped into thinking this is another Tim Burton movie, or even a Timur Bekmambetov film; this is Shane Acker's film all the way—Burton and Bekmambetov merely lent their names and prestige to it to help out a very talented film-maker turn his hobby film into a complete feature, with studio connections, money and personnel to realize that purpose. But making a short film is as different from making a feature as writing a short story is to writing a novel, and Acker hasn't learned that trick yet.
And this is sad, because as one film-writer wrote this week, if "9" doesn't succeed at the box-office, it'll convince all the studios in the collective group-think to not fund an animated film unless it has talking animals in it. We need more films of the type that "9" strives to be, but ultimately is not."9" is a Rental.