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#9 (left, voiced by Elijah Wood) and #7 (right, voiced by Jennifer Connelly) flee for their lives from the Fabrication Machine in Shane Acker's epic adventure fantasy 9.

Rating
3

9

  • Directed by Shane Acker
  • Written by Shane Acker, Ben Gluck and Pamela Pettler
  • With the voices of Elijah Wood, Jennifer Connelly, Christopher Plummer, John C. Reilly, Martin Landau and Crispin Glover
  • Classification: NA

It would be a shame if the most exciting and thoughtful CGI action movie of the year didn't find an audience because the film's heroes fail to pass the suspiciously high superhero-fitness test.

Unlike the majority of this summer's movie action figures, who are cut like NFL linebackers, the good guys in the new animated film 9 are a puny, physically uninspiring lot. Actually, what they are is burlap sock puppets. Imagine Mr. Peanut without the monocle or top hat. What's more, the actors giving voice to these "stitchpunks" are born-to-be-mild types - Elijah Wood, John C. Reilly and Crispin Glover.

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Ironically, that makes the stitchpunks' dilemma all the more human. When Hugh Jackman's Wolverine is thrown against a wall, you worry about the wall. But an audience winces every time the bean bag that is Elijah Wood is tossed around the room.

Wood's character 9 does a fair bit of bouncing around in director Shane Acker's feature-film adaptation, produced by Tim Burton, of his 2005 Academy Award-nominated short. The film opens with 9 coming to life in a gloomy, postapocalyptic world. There is no sun. Cities have been reduced to a wasteland of stony rubbish. All that remains of humanity is 9's memory of his creator, a kindly scientist who created a colony of puppets to give hope to a world otherwise populated by robotic monsters.

Before long, 9 finds the rest of his colony - stitchpunks 1 through 8. Their leader, 1 (voiced by Christopher Plummer), is a worrywart who wants the sock puppets to lie low. Above all, they're not to enter into The Emptiness, the vast nether region where shrieking mechanical cats and dragons claw through debris in search for the tool that might bring their planet life.

Of course, that's exactly where 9 and 7(voiced by Jennifer Connelly) venture in the hope of saving their species.

The film wears its inspirations well. Its charming sock puppets manoeuvre about in gawky, barging strides, reminding us of Walt Disney's Pinocchio . And the way Plummer's tribe elder prattles on about the forbidden zone gives away the film's debt to Planet of the Apes . Still, 9 is very much its own movie. The ruined civilization here is Victorian England - T.S. Eliot's Wasteland . The stitchpunks, despite their name, fit right in. (The character of Pinocchio first appeared in an Italian story in 1883, remember.) Their robot adversaries, on the other hand, are post- Alien monsters with the table manners of a shark.

All of which makes 9 an intriguing anomaly. It's a CGI film with old-fashioned cultural and entertainment values.

That doesn't make 9 forbidding or unfun. Indeed, Acker's film includes the most persuasive recreational-drug sequence ever put to film. One of the sock puppets, 8, disappears from the group. Pulling a hidden magnet from his backpack, he brings the horseshoe instrument to the crown of his head, calling the iron filings that are his brains to exclamation-mark attention.

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Watching 9 , we know how 8 feels. Sci-fi fans will find heaven in Shane Acker's feature-film debut.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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