Strange yet familiar — not for small kids

2010-05-17 00:00

THE Tim Burton-produced animation 9 plays out as at once strange and yet familiar. The story involves a group of diminutive creatures made from gauze-like material, stitches, zips and buttons. They all look a little like the old “clay-mation” Morph of Tony Hart and are named by the numerals 1 through 9.

The narrative begins with the titular 9 becoming conscious and venturing out into a post-apocalyptic city landscape. This is no futuristic city though, but rather a landscape resembling the shattered ruins of Berlin in WW2. Among the debris, 9 discovers 2, an ingenious inventor of things made from scraps. It is not long though before 2 is kidnapped by a ferocious mechanical beast. In his quest to rescue 2, 9 finds 1, a self-appointed leader wearing a pope’s hat. 1, however, is more coward than leader, taking refuge behind 8, a burly, cleaver-wielding thingamajig. Others in the group include 5, a seemingly insane artist who obsessively paints symbols that may hold the key to the group’s destiny, 3 and 4 who are twin archivists projecting images of the past from their eyes, and 7, a rebellious female Xena-like warrior.

While rescuing 2, 9 discovers a talisman. Naively inserting it into a machine, he resurrects a fearsome mechanical beast that appears to literally suck the souls of its hapless victims into its one gigantic red eye. The creature is also adept at manufacturing a slew of other terrifying contraptions resembling spiders, snakes and pterodactyls. It is left to the group to try and save the last remnants of what may be fragments of humanity. We learn through old newsreel footage that a fascist-style government had placed its faith in machines, but the machines had eventually turned against the humans, destroying them in a devastating war. This sounds similar to the well-worn plot of Terminator on the surface and can be read as such by an MTV generation.

The film unfolds at breakneck speed over its 70-minute span. The imagery is intoxicating, breathtaking in its approach to the ideal of pure cinema. The sound mix is inventive and atmospheric. Although voiced by a group of talented thesps, including Elijah Wood, Crispin Glover and Jennifer Connolley, the film could have been made without the dialogue, which serves merely as a device to further the plot.

On a deeper level, the film riffs off The Wizard of Oz, clearly alluded to in the film by a recording of Over the Rainbow. In a post-modern world it is not only about surface pastiche, but also the implications for inner fragmentation, and we discover that these lovable creatures are indeed pieces of a human soul. 9 is not a film for small children, but is rather a hugely creative endeavour that cleverly blends originality with the ordinary.

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