Over the last year we’ve been building a new, home-based ritual: the family movie night. With the invention of the DVD and the arrival of its sleek, sophisticated cousin, the Blu-ray player, it really does feel like “Hollywood on the Hudson” in my house. The images are crisp; the choice of movies is enormous; the amount of fun is immeasurable. All it takes is a trip to the library (films are free), a visit to Redbox (rentals for a mere buck each), or crafty buying on eBay, and the gamut of family entertainment is rich and rewarding. My kids love it! We all get to sit together, munch on popcorn, talk at appropriate pauses, and enjoy a movie night-out, without having to leave our living room. And best of all, we can create our own theme events: like a doll double-bill.
The “Toy Story” franchise is, of course, a natural for doll devotees, and I’ve given high praise to that Pixar confection over the past year. Another, less well-known film has come to my attention, and I highly recommend it for anyone who likes science-fiction, apocalypse adventure, self-sacrificing bravery, and a band of survivors who learn to fight the unknown and defeat the enemy at the gates. Oh, by the way, the heroes are rag dolls.
The computer-animated movie is called “9,” not to be confused with “Nine,” the musical about a self-centered, ego-driven Italian director (though that sounds like a possibility for post-family viewing). No, “9” is executive produced by art-circle favorite Tim Burton, and directed by Shane Acker, who is rightly called a “visionary.” It revolves around the creation of six “stitchpunk” rag dolls by a scientist who realizes that his machinery will ultimately spell the destruction of mankind.
Not willing to see all that defined humanity fall to the wayside, he incorporates bits of his soul into these nine tiny totems. They are left alone to carry on and persevere against the legacy of destruction.
Yes, I know this premise sounds like anything but a barrel of laughs, but the film has a dignity to it and a sense of pure escapism. The nine dolls—each containing a portion of their maker’s soul—key into the Ancient Egyptian notion of the nine components of humanity. These nine characters, which are simply known by their numerical names, represent heroism/humanity, healing, warrior instincts, artistic leanings, historical reverence, intimidation, control, tradition, and ingenuity.
They learn to trust one another, solve a riddle that will ultimately spell out life or death for them, and unite to stand burlap toe to cotton toe against steel talons. It’s fascinating.
My children, who are early elementary-school age, were captivated. I watched them as they reacted to the early encounters of semi-man against metal beast. They were caught up in whether or not the ragtag group of rag dolls would make it until the final credits rolled. Mirroring the realities of revolution and war, not all do. The dolls are forced to use their brains and their brawn, often discovering that their wits are their best weapons. Along the way, they are forced to decide whether to flee or to feud: decisions of “fight or flight” rest around every corner. The movie is like “Logan’s Run” meets “Mad Max.”
Strung throughout this fiery, burning landscape are frames of intense beauty and heartfelt inspiration. One scene in particular features the backdrop’s hue turned sepia toned, and the tiny stitched figures roll out old 33 vinyl albums and 78 recordings to listen to, to find respite in the music and to forget their daily battling and warfare. As they place an old disc on a Victrola and crank it up, two of the dolls dance upon the turntable as Judy Garland’s voice plaintively pines for “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The sight, the sounds, the emotion, they are all bewitching. If you are in search of family fare that is thought provoking and thrilling, please check this out. If you are an adult who wants to enjoy state-of-the-art animation that manages to be simultaneously New Wave and Old School, rent this as well.
The movie was released on 9/09/09—I have no idea what I was doing on that day, but I missed the ad campaign two years ago—I am so glad I caught up with it today. The film stars the voices of Elijah Wood (of course, the “Frodo” actor plays the reluctant hero, 9), Christopher Plummer (a traditionalist who sets himself up as a proxy pope), Jennifer Connelly (the restless warrior), John C. Reilly (the nurturing healer), and Martin Landau (a creative inventor), among others. In a brilliant casting move, Alan Oppenheimer provides the voice of the scientist who unwittingly started us on the path of destruction. Oppenheimer is the cousin of the real-life J. Robert Oppenheimer, the World War II scientist who is often termed “the father of the atomic bomb.”
The ending to the movie is far happier than what one might expect when watching a post-mankind treatise. However, even amid the conventional happiness, there is a tinge of regret and . . . well, humanity.
I loved the film “Wally,” and “9” has that same vibe concerning the earth being inherited not by the meek but by the mechanical.
Here, in “9,” hardware has run amuck; mankind has self-destructed; and the last vestiges of our personhood are found in our dolls.
For us doll aficionados, it’s a self-evident truth, and one worth pursuing.