Some years ago, at Cinequest, I saw a short film entitled "9." It was lovely and strange, like a lot of films at San Jose's maverick film festival, but I liked it. It told, without words, the story of a small living doll who fought a strange cat-like machine to reclaim the souls of his friends. When I heard that it was being made into a feature-length film, I was elated! The resulting movie, also titled "9," is beautiful and odd, but rather lacking in plot coherence.

The story of the film centers around the efforts of a small group of dolls to defeat a vast machine in a post-apocalyptic landscape. The dolls, mostly voiced by well-known actors, are assembled from cloth and bits of metal, each conforming roughly to a familiar archetype. No. 1 (Christopher Plummer) is the stodgy, conservative old leader; No. 7 (Jennifer Connolly) is the brave warrior; No. 9 (Elijah Wood) is the brave, young idealist destined to lead them toward their destinies, and so on.

The art of the film, which is entirely computer-animated, is gorgeous. The landscape is barren, devoid of biological life, and made even more threatening by our heroes' tiny stature (they're only a few inches tall, poking through the ruins of human civilization). But there are moments of beauty the stained glass windows in the church where the dolls live, the ruins of an enormous library still surrounded by classical statues, the tiny and beautifully-detailed mechanisms used to bring the dolls to life.

This is a world


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filled with both robots and alchemy, and it's a pity the story doesn't examine the relationship between the two more. It's been said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, but there are hints in "9" that there's a real difference. The machines, which destroyed humanity, have no soul, but the little dolls do, and this vital fact is glossed over, and never examined.

Indeed, a lot of things are glossed over in "9." Most of the dialog is simplified and suitable for a kids' movie, but the film is dark enough to be rated PG-13. There's very little examination or character development (and with a runtime of an hour and 19 minutes, there isn't much time for it, either) and yet the film's tone suggests it's aimed at pre-teen or older moviegoers. Certainly some of the mechanical monsters the dolls faces are far too creepy for little kids (one reminiscent of a cobra, but with the deformed head of a baby-doll made even me shudder, and I was unimpressed by the ick-factor of "Land of the Dead"). Surely this older audience deserves more than a short, simplified speech or two about idealism and leadership?

"9" is still worth seeing, if only for the gorgeous animation. Acker's short was lovely, and with the expanded resources of a feature film, he's been able to really cut loose with the artistic side of production. It's to be hoped that his future films will cut loose with plot and development as well. If gorgeous visuals aren't enough to make up for a weak plot, you should stay away, but if you love the art of movies enough to ignore the weak storytelling, don't miss "9."

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Ealasaid A. Haas is a local film buff and freelance writer. Contact her at

reviewer@ealasaid.com, or check out her Web site: www.ealasaid.com.