Year: 2009
Studio: Focus Features
Director: Shane Acker
Producer: Timur Bekmambatov/Tim Burton
Writer: Shane Acker/Pamela Pettler
Cast: Elijah Wood, Christopher Plummer, Martin Laundau, John C Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Crispin Glover

In a year when computer animated family adventure films came at us like buxom starlets at an A list producer, this small affair came and went with barely a blip, only just making back its production cost and a long way off being in the black.

It's a shame because as far as the flood of similar films go, it had not only an inventive story but some of the best visuals of its kind in ages.

Not to be confused with Rob Marshall's musical of the same name, it's the near future and humanity has killed itself off with the old machines-turned-on-us motif. The ruined cities that are left reminded me of footage of Europe after World War II, and the montage of the attack sequences were very newsreel-inspired, with the same past-meets-future aesthetic that made the visuals of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow so interesting.

But life stirs in the form of a small hessian doll who wakes up in a ruined laboratory aside the dead body of the man he presumes created him. 9, designated by the number on his back and straight away making us assume he's not the only one, makes his way out into the scary world outside where he meets others like him, cowering in fear of the large, red-eyed machines that prowl the cities armed with slashing and hacking limbs and hungry for the pint sized heroes.

9 wants to break the faux-religious tradition he finds among his new fellows and try and learn the truth about where they came from by going into the mouth of danger, the factory where the machines build ever more copies of themselves, and he leads a small revolt to carry out the search.

The inspired philosophy behind the 40s-era war rubble look is one thing, but the detail in the picture itself is astounding. Every stitch on the bodies of the little dolls is crystal clear, long shots of the landscape full of depth and naturalism and with everyone crowing about how brilliant Avatar's visuals are, every scene in this film is just as much a technical wonder.

There's a lot of exposition to lay on, and it enmeshes very successfully with the many chase and action sequences. It's also darker and scarier than you'll expect and definitely not for little kids.

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