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Film Review: Michael Cavna on Shane Acker's '9'

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An animated, postapocalyptic adventure featuring the voices of Elijah Wood and Jennifer Connelly. Video by Focus Features

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By Michael Cavna
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 9, 2009

As the dark, animated sci-fi tale "9" -- not to be confused with the current sci-fi film "District 9" or the upcoming star-studded musical movie "Nine" -- opens Wednesday (as in 9-9-09), a big question looms: Does "9" rival last year's "Wall E" as the best post-apocalyptic "cartoon"?

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The short answer is Nein.

"9" is, however, a visual stunner.

The film, Shane Acker's feature-length telling of his Oscar-nominated student short, will expose the animator's talents to a much wider pre-apocalyptic world. As wunderkind visionary, he is not Orson Welles, but he certainly has H.G. Wells's DNA.

Dissecting a film that was first storyboarded at UCLA nearly a decade ago should be undertaken not with a knuckle-dragger's thumbs up or down, but with a certain scientific deduction. So here are Nine Things You Should Know About "9":

1. Humanity-imbued rag dolls battle robotic war machines -- but it's not for the younger rungs of the Disney crowd.

This Focus Features film is more menacing buzz saw than Buzz Lightyear. Nine burlapped Beowulfian Bravehearts -- Acker dubs them "stitchpunk" dolls -- individually represent parts of their late Scientist-Creator's soul. Humanity has been wiped out by the rise (and rage) of the machines, so these small dolls -- each possessing a distinct personality -- band together to try to conquer a Cat Beast and a Winged Beast, among other fiercely clattering creatures. The stitchpunks stab 'em with their steely knives, but they just can't kill the beasts.

2. YouTube holds all the answers.

After watching the trailer, the quickest litmus test for you is the 11-minute short "9" that scored Acker an invite to the 2005 Oscar party as a nominee. If the short doesn't capture your fancy on YouTube , you can stop now and save your 9 -- yes, nine -- dollars at the movie theater.


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