The life of a bean bag
A reviewer attempting to write about the new CGI-animated movie “9” runs into a minor difficulty, which is that it’s unclear exactly what the protagonists are. As in, are they animal, mineral, or vegetable?
“9’s” plot involves nine characters (their names are One, Two, Three, etc.) struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic landscape that exists in the aftermath of a war between humans and machines. (Machines won. Sound familiar?) The nine characters aren’t machines, exactly, but they aren’t people or animals either. They’re little cloth pouches that can move, communicate, and make facial expressions that range from ornery to cute. At some point during the movie I began mentally referring to them as the Owlish Beanbags.
The main Beanbag is Nine (voiced by Elijah Wood) who wakes up early on in an inventor’s workshop and wanders naively out into a smashed-up, uglified world, where Beasts made out of dog skulls and twine and old clattery junk roam the streets, snatching up little Beanbags for unknown but surely unpleasant purposes.
Nine soon meets the other eight Beanbags, who are led by the crabby and conservative One, voiced by Christopher Plummer. The CG animators did a terrific job imitating Plummer’s expressively dour face. The Beanbags are being menaced by the Beasts, and when one Beanbag is captured, Nine goes on a rescue mission against One’s orders. It all has something to do with a Great Machine that was built by an Inventor but then turned against its masters and destroyed all humanity…etc., etc.
The plot of “9” is really boilerplate, about as paint-by-numbers as it gets. Same goes for the dialogue. All of it seems to be just a skeleton on which to hang lots of visual flourishes. The Beanbags, whatever they are, look pretty cool when they’re not being too cute, and the landscapes are vivid and memorable. The Beasts are creepy enough, too, with their dog skulls and bird skulls and doll heads on spidery legs. But there’s nothing exactly original in any of it, and the novelty wears off after a little while, especially when the screenplay keeps falling back on the hoariest of clichés.
For every entertaining detail (one of the Beanbags likes to get high by holding a magnet to his head) there are five groaners (luminous spirits of dead characters waving goodbye before slowly rising to heaven; I mean, seriously?). And the action sequences feel like psychotic screensavers.
“9” was adapted by its talented creator, Shane Acker, from a (very good) short film that he made, but it feels like it should have stayed a short film. At feature length, you can‘t just showcase the visuals. The narrative gears have to be working, too.