September 10, 2009


   Home Page

 News & Features


 Columns & Opinions

   Publisher's Note





 Pop Culture



   Video Games
   CD Reviews




   Grazing Guide



   Music Roundup

   Live Music/DJs

   MP3 & Podcasts





 Find A Hippo




   View Classified Ads

   Place a Classified Ad




 Contact Us

   Hippo Staff

   How to Reach The Hippo

 Past Issues

   Browse by Cover

9 (PG-13)
A band of sock-puppets try to survive in a post-apocalyptic world in 9, an animated movie that, if nothing else, looks really great.

9 (voiced by Elijah Wood) wakes up to find himself in a world of crumbling buildings and desolate landscapes. Even in the scientist’s workshop where he comes to life, 9 is greeted by a corpse — that of his maker, we assume. Looking out of a window on the rubble and ruined buildings that make up the city, 9 sees another like him, 2 (Martin Landau), we learn. 9 briefly befriends 2, only to lose him to some horrible mechanized monster. Then 9 finds 5 (John C. Reilly), a gentle soul living in hiding with the unhinged 6 (Crispin Glover), the brutish 8 (Fred Tatasciore) and the domineering 1 (Christopher Plummer). They live in hiding from the thing that took 2, and, they believe, took others too.

This lumbering metal evil is only one thing to fear in their world. Something called the Great Machine awaits these little numbered beings. This horrible creation might hold the key not only to what happened but also to how they came to be.

The numbered characters here are doll-sized — made of a burlap-y looking fabric maybe or scraps of whatever else was around. 9 has a zipper down his chest. 5 is missing an eye and wears a metal patch. With their random-notion-created features sewn on stretched fabric faces and their floppy limbs, they look a bit like sock puppets, or more specifically they look like those sock monkey dolls that a lot of kids had in their stuffed animal collections.

And here — SPOILER ALERT — is my problem with this movie. We’re told pretty quickly that this is the world now — no humans, lots of destruction, sock puppets, evil creepy machines. Soon, the sock puppets have a quest and work hard to save each other, etc. But, ultimately, the best possible outcome here is a world populated by a handful of non-reproducing sock puppets (they might have the power of thought but they still seem to be made of stuffing and watch parts — not good candidates for fertility). This doesn’t give you as a viewer a lot to root for. And if the end of civilization is supposed to be the image to take away from this, I feel like the movie needed to give us more. The twilight (as opposed to the night of everybody’s-already-dead) would have had more emotional impact, if that’s what this movie was going for. I had a growing sense of “neat; so what?” as the movie wore on.

Not that 9 is completely shrug-off-able. These sock monkey dolls are interesting-looking and kind of fascinating to watch. The movie itself is has a dreary loveliness, as you’d expect for a movie where Tim Burton has a producing credit. I like the “World of Tomorrow” retro futurism of this universe, full of high-tech killing machines that seem straight out of the late 1930s (as does the Chancellor shown in news reels). There’s a bit of turn-of-the-20th-century style injected in the buildings and scientific instruments as well. It’s as though we really are looking at some poor European city bombed into nothingness circa World War II.

If this movie had been longer, its lack of a point or any kind of emotional resonance might have bothered me more. As it is, the visuals are mostly pretty and fascinating enough to keep you interested even if you never once care about the story. I will say that despite the sock puppet protagonists and the animated nature of the movie, this is not a movie for little kids — or really any kids who might potentially have nightmares about being eaten by a metal monster or suffocated by a mustard-gas-looking grenade. This is more of an “ooo, look at the artistry” movie, and probably the only emotion it leaves you with is a vague sense of disappointment that it couldn’t have been more. C+

Rated PG-13 for violence and scary images. Directed by Shane Acker and written by Pamela Pettler and Shane Acker, 9 is an hour and 19 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Focus Features.