Elijah Wood voices the main brave little puppet in <em>9</em>.

Filing-wise, 9 may find itself resting before 10 on DVD shelves and movie databases, but the film belongs to a genre totally unrelated to its numeral-monikered neighbor. Consider this another installment-and a fine one at that-in the post-apocalyptic computer-animation genre, which has been released just far enough away from the king of that hill, WALL-E, not to pale too badly in its lordly light.

Expanding from a short film about a burlap puppet with powers of motion, will, and gumption, director and cowriter Shane Acker has created a retro-futurist variation on the idea of unlikely survivors of an end-of-humanity theme. No, it’s not cockroaches, but a literally ragtag pack of rough sock puppets, made from burlap, zippers, and other random objects assembled by an omniscient, soul-dispensing grand puppeteer. After humanity has snuffed itself out, these puppets lurk in bombed-out buildings and do their level best to avoid the nasty aggression of “the beast” and “the machine.” This particular doomed world, done in by fascistic Orwellian scheming and chemical weaponry, seemingly is frozen in some vague ’40s-ish era. In a triumphant moment, a phonograph even plays “Over the Rainbow.” Generally, Acker coyly softens the grim spin of his saga with fairytale and history-fudging touches.

Voices carry lightness and familiarity, as well. In addition to the plucky Elijah Wood as the heroic young 9-who “forgot to remember to be scared”-and quirkier turns by indie film icons Crispin Glover and John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly shows up to give voice to the day-saving, you-go-girlfriend female, and Christopher Plummer does a turn as the burlap elder, more wizened than wise.

It may be true that 9 too closely heeds the cliche-strewn road of most contemporary animated “adventure” films, in which a loveable motley crew braves foes and obstacles in exciting, hyper-computing sequences. But in the end, 9 mostly wears its digitized stunt work and Disney-esque sentiments well, mixing in existential experimentalism and video game-like sensory whizbang in a package suitable for children of all ages. These adorable can-do puppets make the prospect of an apocalypse go down a bit easier.


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