Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Heroic Sock Puppets

Tonight I had hoped to watch the hour-long Nova special on Watson, the Jeopardy-playing supercomputer, but for some reason our local PBS station isn't airing it.  Instead Barry and I watched his latest Netflix pick, the 2009 animated feature 9 (click on this link to see a trailer).

When Barry selects a movie he hasn't previously seen, neither of us knows what the result will be.  That's because he won't read the plot summary for fear it will ruin the film for him.  I think he just goes by the category it's in, the title, the rating (if it has one), and possibly the actors.  He hadn't realized that this was animated and was briefly disgruntled by that, but only briefly.

9 had its genesis in an animated short created by writer/director Shane Acker when a student at UCLA; the short was included as a special feature on the DVD.  Both versions of the story take place in an alternate universe, on an Earth where the Industrial Revolution went farther than it did here, and all life was destroyed by machines during the equivalent of our late 1930's or early 1940's.  The only survivors are some of the predatory machines and a small band of rag dolls cleverly constructed from scraps of burlap, camera lenses, and miscellaneous bits and pieces of hardware and sewing supplies.  Who created the rag dolls and why?  Can they survive the depredations of the mechanical villains, or even defeat them?  What is the meaning of the mysterious talisman discovered by the hero, 9, when he is first "born?"

The animation in 9 was astounding, the moody atmosphere and "lighting" outstanding, and the little dolls sympathetic and believable characters - it was nominated for six different animation awards - but I'm not sure who the target market for the movie is supposed to be.  The plot summary makes it sound like a children's film, but it is emphatically not that.  The rating is PG-13 for some pretty harrowing violence, and I would definitely not recommend the movie for pre-teens or younger children.  I'm not sure I'm old enough to watch it myself.

"I wouldn't want to be a sock puppet in a post-apocalyptic world; would you?" ~One 9 animator to another (in one of the special features on the DVD)

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