Co-produced by Tim Burton, 9 is a beautifully animated but narratively compromised fable. It's hard to tell what the moral message is, other than "It's good to work together to achieve your goals" or "Don't press random buttons unless you know what they might do."
9 is a feature-length retelling of Shane Acker's 2005 Academy Award-nominated short film of the same name. As in the original (which can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube), the principal characters - numbered "1" through "9" - are stitched-together mechanical rag dolls in varying degrees of soiled disuse. They exist in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Humanity, we discover, has gone to war with its machines, and the machines won.
The character 9, voiced with just the right amount of curious trepidation by Elijah Wood, awakes one day in a dusty cupola, the long-dead body of his inventor below him and a world of peril (and ingeniously detailed animation) just outside the window. Initially voiceless, 9 goes off in search of, well, anything, and discovers another similar patchwork automaton, the kindly 2 (Martin Landau), who is able to fix 9's broken voicebox before being attacked and carried away by a robotic cat-thing.
Acker's original was a darkly whimsical blend of CGI wizardry and silent-film tropes. This expanded version introduces new characters, but such additions only serve to expose the seams in what was previously a seamlessly magical tale. It's a narrative problem that producer Burton has been battling at least since he turned a batch of cool '60s bubble-gum cards - Mars Attacks! - into a colorful, feature-length mess.