GODDAMN, IS IT gorgeous to look at. 9 is full of astonishing visuals—brilliantly conceived things that twist and gleam in the light, moving with a fluidity and a vigor that most animated characters can only dream of. The world of 9 is a haunting, haunted place—one of bombed-out buildings, grimy skies, and vestiges of long-dead humanity—and watching the film's burlap-sack protagonists creep and dash through it, their tiny mechanized eyes full of fear and awe, is undoubtedly impressive.
And then the story—what little of it there is—starts, fades, and mumbles away for an hour or so before it ends, leaving little behind except memories of some killer visuals and a few solidly directed sequences.
It's disappointing, because 9 never stops promising more than it delivers. Its too-scant story begins when a tiny creature made of burlap and a zipper awakens in an abandoned workshop, a big "9" drawn on his back; venturing out into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood) finds a world that's prowled by killer robots and littered with the rusting, rotting husks of human civilization. He also finds some other burlap sack pals, who've either been bravely surviving on their own or have somehow escaped from LittleBigPlanet. There's the affable, friendly 5 (John C. Reilly); the badass warrior 7 (Jennifer Connelly); the rambling prophet 6 (Crispin Glover); and the pissy, self-appointed leader 1 (Christopher Plummer). Once 9 is accepted into this burlap crew, what results is kinda like what'd happen if Pixar made The Terminator: Cute burlap creatures fight off the eeeevil robots who killed humanity, learning a little something about themselves along the way.
Problem is, that's all there is to it. 9 is based on a 10-minute-long, Academy Award-winning short that Acker made in 2005, and despite his and co-writer Pamela Pettler's efforts, this feature-length expansion adds nothing of consequence. In his near-perfect original short, Acker's rag-doll creations didn't speak at all (let alone bicker in celebrities' voices), and there, the pared-down, fast-paced story moved with purpose and felt stuffed with weirdness and intrigue. Even at a brief 79 minutes, this blown-up version of 9 feels drawn out and sluggish; it's less a deeper examination of Acker's melancholy, brilliantly imagined world than a longer, less memorable visit.
This being said: While it's hard to recommend going to the theater to see 9, you know what's a perfectly good idea? Keeping 10 bucks in your pocket, making some microwave popcorn, and looking up Acker's original 9 on YouTube.