Imagine a world where Toy Story-esque characters are brought into life on a dusty planet without humans. Imagine a DVD cover which appears to suggest an epic tale following the adventurous spirit of a skinny sack puppet. Imagine picking it up from the store, saying, "Hey, girlfriend. This looks like it could be a fun movie!" You notice it is produced by Tim Burton... You think of Edward Scissorhands, Nightmare before Christmas, Big Fish, Alice in Wonderland. Should be quirky and fun.
Now imagine all these impressions to be absolutely FALSE.
Life is Crap
9 is a story about nine creations (sack puppets) brought to life in a horrible post-apocalyptic landscape that makes the real world of The Matrix look near quaint by comparison. Their reason for existence is to ensure that some life carries on after the extinction of humanity. Consequently, they spend the entire movie fighting and dying against some of the most horrific machines ever created.
As the terror began to sink in, I swiftly realized that this was no Coraline. Coraline had frightening moments, but they were juxtaposed with wonder and discovery. Watching 9 made me feel as if I was witnessing the death of hope. The environment of 9 is littered with barbed wire, sandbags, smokestacks belching forth from the creepiest factory I've ever seen. Demonic machines raised from the pit of hell chase after the poor little sack puppets, killing them in severely disturbing ways. At many points, I wondered to myself if this is how it felt to be living in the era of World War I; a period of time where death was rampant, where the battlefield looked like Mordor, and where people despaired over how technology was being used to kill, kill, kill, ever more ruthlessly and efficiently. Needless to say, this movie is not pleasant.
But There is Still Hope
However, one should not read this and understand me to think that the movie is bad or was too depressing. It is definitely a heavy hit when unexpected, but the movie is not actually a horror film (though many times it comes very close). What keeps it together is the sack puppets and how they are approached.
Essentially, the sack puppets are aspects of their creator's soul. As such, they have personality; a quality lacking in the dangerous machines littering the barren waste. It is from this revelation that one understands why it is they act as they do. And this recognition is crucial to really connecting with the characters. It helps to see that 9, the main character, represents the creator's humanity, and this helps to explain why he takes the leadership role and acts as the group's moral compass. Similarly, one of the puppets represents the warrior part of the creator's personality, just like another is the artistic side, and yet another is the tinkerer. This knowledge helps to show that 1 isn't being curmudgeonly just to be a plot irritant, but instead because he represents the creator's traditional side, and thus regards new developments with suspicion and hostility.
Sadly, this could have been made clearer. It is only hinted at that each puppet represents a particular aspect, and if one doesn't see it, then the characters and acting can come off as one-dimensional for no purpose. In truth, all of them together are an entity of their own, and it is only when they stick together that they are able to truly succeed.
9 is a worthy film, although surely the darkest computer-animated film yet created. The environment has a life of its own, and the artistic design was very effective toward illustrating how horrible the situation is. Yet this helps the characters' victories stand out all the brighter, as they fight to survive in an unbelievably hostile environment and largely manage to pull it off. They do spend a major portion of their time participated in that struggle, and the movie thus has far more action scenes than I had expected there would be. But each was exciting and unique, making for a compelling story of one man's creations versus machine. In the end, I came to accept that the movie wasn't what I had expected it to be, and enjoyed it for what it was.
My only complaint is that I wish it had a happier ending. It is left somewhat ambiguous, and I think those sack puppets deserved a better shot at happiness and closure.