One Lucky Number
Cartoon gem a tale well told
By Kristen Page-Kirby
First off: 9 is not for kids. At all. See that PG-13 rating? They mean it. The odd thing is that this animated film, directed by newbie Shane Acker, earns it with no sex, no language and no gore. But it does earn it, so don’t let anyone under, say, a mature 11 see it.
Then get a sitter and go yourself.
9 takes place in a stylized city in an ambiguous time. Humanity has been wiped out by machines that, of course, turned evil (thanks to the movies, I now fear everything from my car to my battery-powered toothbrush.) The machines wiped out everything else, too—no plants, no trees, no animals seem to live; only the bombed-out structures of churches and factories and cars line the streets. The only things left are little burlap-sackcloth voodoo dolls, known only by their numbers. While they look very similar, they’re different enough that you can tell them apart; plus they each wear their number on their backs.
#9 (voiced by Elijah Wood) comes to in a room; that’s all we know. Eventually he meets others like him; scientist #2 (Martin Landau), sensitive, one-eyed engineer #5 (John C. Reilly) and the leader of the group, #1 (Christopher Plummer). There’s also hulking dimbulb #8 (Fred Tatasciore) and #6 (Crispin Glover), an artist plagued (blessed?) with visions of the past and future.
The creatures are stalked by a terrifying dino-bot and, later, other mechanical incarnations. And the machines that keep coming after them are terrifying. I tend to watch movies with a pen in my mouth (a nasty habit, I know, but it’s better than smoking) and at one point I jumped so far I almost shoved the Sharpie down my throat. Beyond the jump-out-and-scare-‘em techniques, the machines are wholly soulless and entirely mechanical. They cannot be reasoned with—they just want to kill and destroy. They’re like the Terminator, but without the cuddly side.
Eventually, #99 discovers a splinter group of creatures, headed by the ninjaesque #7 (Jennifer Connelly) and voiceless twins #3 and #4. Eventually they all band together to face off against the machines, but watching such cuddly, weak things head into battle is not stirring—it’s just sad.
The movie is dark and often allegorical. Sometimes it’s a little heavy-handed: #1, for example, holes up in an abandoned church, wearing what might as well be a bishop’s miter and carrying a crozier and refusing to entertain anything other than abject obedience. The more independent #7 keeps her band in a library and encourages questioning. #6 wears a key around his neck. But when the final questions about the creatures’ origins are answered, such choices make more sense.
No one creature has the answers here. They are all good guys; they are all bad guys. #1’s reliance on faith and stability above all else leads to his downfall—but it also led to the survival of the race. #8’s brute strength helps and harms; #9’s gentle curiosity has a place where it’s warranted and a place where it’s dangerous. As the band joins together, it becomes clear that the world that they (and we?) inhabit has a place for force, a place for faith—and a place for fear.
Like I said, there is no sex, no language, no violence. You do see dead human bodies, including a woman cradling a baby. The creatures are often, if not always, in danger, and some of them don’t make it out alive. Also, I’m not sure many kids would even enjoy the movie—there isn’t much beyond its darkness; a slightly redemptive ending probably would go over most kids’ heads. But this small, tightly-paced little film soars visually and narratively in a way those who see it won’t soon forget.
Kristen Page-Kirby is the editor of Chesapeake Family magazine. She last reviewed Post-Grad.