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9: 3 ½ STARS

9 backFor those who thought last year’s “WALL-E” was the last word in animated post apocalyptic entertainment along comes a dark fable about a war ravaged world populated by brave burlap dolls (numbered 1 through 9) and terrifying machines. Call it Sock Puppets Save the World if you like, but despite the kid-friendly lead characters, “9” isn’t as cute and cuddly as “WALL-E.”

Set ten years after the war to end all wars actually ended everything, “9” really picks up when the title character mistakenly awakens a terrifying machine with the ability to create other machines of destruction. As 9 and the other dolls fight the evil machines they discover the very essence of their existence; that they were created by a scientist who knew the end of life as he knew it was near. Rather than see all life disappear he created these limited edition rag dolls, each with a special skill, to continue life.

The basic idea behind “9” is something we’ve seen before—technology goes wild and machines turn on humans—but what makes this film unique is, bless their little burlap hearts, the rag dolls. Each has a well defined personality and while the voice work isn’t terribly strong—save for Christopher Plummer as 1, the king doll—they all bring something interesting to the story.

Jennifer Connolly voices 7, a kind of ninja beanie baby character. She’s a strong female presence in a genre that often lacks interesting roles for women. Other voices in this eclectic cast include Elijah Wood, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover and Martin Landau.

“9” isn’t so much a story as it is a series of action set pieces bound together by ideas. The narrative is simple—man has been destroyed and now these little saviors must defeat the big bad machines or they too will be crushed—and little effort is spent developing the story past a certain point. Lots of effort, however, has been put into creating the elaborate action scenes that make up the bulk of the film.

The wild scenes—mainly of demonic looking machines trying to kill the little dolls—may be too intense for young kids. Ten and eleven year olds should be fine with the imagery—human skulls attached to winged metal skeletons and the like—but anyone younger than that might have trouble sleeping after these frenetic, violent sequences.

Of course, there is an environmental message attached to the story; this is, after all a movie aimed at the young. It’s not heavy handed, but lines like “This world is ours now… it’s what we make of it” subtly push kids to think about their surroundings.

“9” is cool sci fi for kids with imaginative characters and lots of action that doesn’t talk down to its audience.

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