Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Back in 2005, Shane Acker made a silent but compelling short film called 9 - later Oscar-nominated - which saw a loosely-woven cloth creature navigate a post-apocalyptic landscape under threat from a deadly and vicious robot/skeleton hybrid. Four years on, the film has been expanded to feature length under the gimlet gaze of no lesser producers than Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch) - and let's face it, when it comes to the nightmare vistas they've been there, done it and bought the blood-stained T-shirt.

All of which leaves you wondering how it went so wrong. Whatever their intentions, they've suceeded in putting the whoops into apocalypse.

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The beginning is filled with promise. We see a pair of human hands putting the final touches to our tiny hessian hero, and watch as he wakes and surveys the bomb-blitzed surroundings that will become his home. Creeping out into this brave new world, armed with a mysterious metal doodad he has found on the worktable, 9 - for it is he - encounters 2, an older and wiser cloth chap (voiced by Martin Landau), who unzips him and sorts out his voice box so he can speak like Elijah Wood.

Attacked by a seriously sinister machine that is part skeleton part Terminator, 2 is captured. As 9 escapes he encounters the rest of the numbered mini-men, who live under the watchful and sour gaze of 1 (Christopher Plummer). Ignoring his dire warnings, 9 and the very reluctant 5 (John C Reilly) head for a set of dangerous looking towers in the distance to try to find out what is going on, succeeding in finding Lara Croft-alike 7 (Jennifer Connolly) and, more importantly, resurrecting a giant robotic 'brain' which is determined to steal their souls and wipe them out as it has mankind before them. Now, they must not only find out what on earth the brain is but how that doodad came to bring it back to life and what on earth they are supposed to do about it, if anything.

Got that? Don't worry if you haven't, this is but the tip of an unwieldy plot iceberg that just about succeeds in sinking the entire affair. And even the film's structure - which essentially leaps from one action set-piece to another before jamming in so much plot exposition its impossible to separate the mumbo from jumbo - isn't its biggest flaw.

That prize has to go to the filmmakers' inability to commit to a specific target audience. Parents take note, this film has a 12A rating with good reason. The heroes may have a whiff of Pixar about them, but the bad guys make the creepy creations from Toy Story's Sid's Room look like My Little Pony and are almost guaranteed to induce nightmares in the under-eights - frankly, this 38-year-old found one skeleton/machine/medusa pretty damn disturbing. And while there is nothing wrong with making an animation aimed at adults, Acker and co-writer Pamela Pettler fail to commit to this when it comes to story depth - ideas of fascism, loss of the soul and post-apocalyptic existence, all ripe for exploration, are given a body swerve in favour of muddled new-age nonsense.

The voice cast do their best with the material and, in fairness, despite all the characters looking quite similar each is easy to recognise. Away from the talking, there is also much to admire in the animation - although the look recalls many that have gone before, from the artwork used on Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds, through the Terminator and Transformers franchises to Jan Svankmajer and beyond.

Atmospheric or not, this film, like the megalomaniac brain at its heart, ultimately lacks soul.

Reviewed on: 28 Oct 2009
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The post-apocalypse world is back... and this time its animated.
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Director: Shane Acker

Writer: Pamela Pettler, Shane Acker

Starring: Voices of Elijah Wood, John C Reilly, Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Jennifer Connelly, Crispin Glover

Year: 2009

Runtime: 79 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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