Rhianwen Benner: An animated film starring adorable little doll people may scare and depress your kids. Here's why.
After a futuristic war between man and machine, the only life left on earth is a band of tiny rag dolls come to life. We watch as "Number 9" (voiced by Elijah Wood) and "Number 1" (Christopher Plummer) debate two wildly differing philosophies on survival as they battle the machines.
WHY YOU'LL LOVE IT
Despite the destruction and decay, the animated visuals can be quite stunning. The characters were obviously created with a lot of care and artistry, and it can be fun to watch the tiny dolls repurpose human-sized objects for their own missions. (A bucket and some rope make for a surprisingly adorable elevator, even in a bleak war zone setting.) Teamwork is emphasized consistently throughout the film. Even though "Number 9" and his friends -- including "Number 7" (Jennifer Connelly), a very skilled and heroic female warrior -- are minuscule compared to their robot opponents, they succeed through bravery and working together. The film is ambitious in its themes, and wants to give the viewer a lot to think about. "9" raises issues about the ethics of survival, questioning authority and doing the right thing even if it's unpopular. It even manages to cram in some theological debate over the issue of serving a spiritual creator versus serving science. These are all pretty heady themes, of course, so while your older and more intellectually minded kids will enjoy it, your young ones might just be scared.
WHY YOU'LL HATE IT
This movie is dark. Really dark. It paints the future with a very dystopian brush, attributing the destruction of the earth and all living things to man's dependence on technology. (On the other hand, maybe your kid will put down the XBox controller for a while after seeing "9.") The disturbing images start early and continue throughout, including a lingering shot of a dead mother and child still strapped into a car seat. We are also shown footage of the war that destroyed the world, with soldiers being shot down by towering machines. The adorably designed doll characters -- sure to be beloved by your children -- are ruthlessly hunted by the machines and several have their souls extracted from their bodies as they writhe in pain. There is nary a drop of blood in sight through the whole film, but after all the intense violence, blood might be beside the point. Resolution is achieved, but it's not clear to what extent. Our tiny heroes do eventually win out over the machines, but the human race is still gone and the planet still obliterated. After all that hard work, what reward do they have to look forward to?
THE BOTTOM LINE
"9" is an impressive film for sure, but it's also a bleak one. If you're looking for a fun animated romp to take your toddlers to, keep looking. This one's rated PG-13 for a reason.
|Though technically an adult, Rhianwen Benner voraciously consumes children's media with the passion and wonder of a child. As a researcher at Temple University, she has studied the relationship between media and children's development. She has witnessed many special moms and kids navigate the often complex world of children's entertainment. Based in Los Angeles, she is here to serve as your field guide to what kids watch.|