We had such potential. Such promise. But we squandered our gifts, our intelligence. Our blind pursuit of technology only sped us quicker to our doom. Our world is ending. But life must go on.
“Life must go on.” As much a plea for the future as a statement of intent, these words start off 9, an animated adventure that took the world by storm when it was first released in 2009. As I’d missed it until recently, I’m posting this in the hopes that all those others who have not found this can do so.
That cute little thing you’re seeing over on the right is 9, the protagonist of the film. He’s a robot with sackcloth skin, delicately carved wooden hands and brushed copper digits who has just recently found himself alive in a world that is dying. As I’m sure you can guess from the title of the film and his name, 9 isn’t alone in the bleak post apocalyptic future that he finds himself in, and he’s soon joined by a cast of eight other robots each with their own personality and numerical name. I can see some of you already starting to turn away from this page and I urge you to stick around and give this review a good read before making your minds up about 9. This isn’t a standard animated adventure after all, but something so much more.
Quite often people will talk about animated adventures from the likes of Pixar as something the whole family can enjoy. Usually this ends up being a few nudge nudge, wink wink moments where the film drops some “The kids wont get this but you will. Aren’t we naughty?” innuendo into the script specifically for parents. It’s a nice trick occasionally but has gotten to the point that the films are starting to grate more than if they were entirely for kids. 9 eschews that convention entirely by simply making the movie primarily for adults in the first place. Now don’t get me wrong here; kids will still be able to enjoy this movie as much as any other animated adventure. The characters are lovably chunky caricatures and the plot is simple enough to follow for the little ones, after all. It is in the deeper meanings that adults will find themselves at home with this film. The familiar background of the world, the weaknesses of humanity, the corruption of government – all of these are shown in a way that adds to the film for adults watching it. Never shoved in your face or central enough to the plot that kids will miss out without understanding them, these elements make the world all that more believable for adults watching with or without their children.
Amongst the themes dealt with in 9 are such intense questions as “What is life?” and “Where is God?”, lofty thoughts for any film to deal with, much less an animation. Yet 9 never lets itself get bogged down in the details, never tries to force an answer to those questions and never once asks them outright. Instead, like the other adult attractions to this film, these are incidental details making up the unwritten background story and unspoken future implications of the ending of the film. These are things that the watcher may find themselves discussing as a result of the film rather than something the film itself tries to deal with. It’s a delicate balance yet the film manages to make it look easy, as it does balancing so many other mature elements against the simple story and presentation. It’s a masterclass of storytelling; a Citizen Kane for the animation era.
The sense of wonder I felt when watching 9 was totally refreshing. Partially I felt like a child again, experiencing something I’d never known of before, and I was grinning widely most of the way through the utterly charming film. On the other hand the adult inside was catered to as well with enough meaty debate topics to keep me going for years, and the implications of some of the background happenings truly disturbed me in some places, making me both angry and sad respectively. The fact that the film is capable of working on so many levels is one of its strengths, ensuring that anyone can sit down and enjoy it when they’re not looking for something deep and meaningful, yet they can still be moved by the film when it decrees they should be. I defy anyone not to have their minds set in gear by the implications of the final shot of the film; both in what it means to that world and in what it possibly says about our own, where it has been, where it comes from and where it is going. At the end of the film you’ll be left not with the traditional cheesy happy ending, but with a subtle feeling of hope for the future.