Thursday, 14 July 2011

"9" - where even Ragdolls have souls...

Shane Acker may be "new" in the big game of directing an animated-feature, but if you've not seen "9" yet, you should - it shows plenty of untapped potential to what I feel is a long, great career for him.

Originating from a student film made by Shane, which took him 4 years to make, "9" is set in a scientific-mythology world, which feels like Earth in a sort of parallel universe - starting off in a post-apocalypse where machines have revolted against the humans and have killed all living beings...apart from 9 rag dolls, each literally containing a part of the scientist who created them, and who all hold the key to fight against the monstrous machines and begin new life.

Co-produced by Tim Burton (Corpse Bride, Nightmare Before Christmas) and story contribution by Pamela Pettler (Clueless, Monster House), this CGI feature-length is, without a doubt, 115% original. Rated 12, it is not for the faint-hearted with its nightmare fuel and creepy settings...yet despite the fear factor, there is a sense of emotion and thought for the future. Of the world as we know it or our own lives, how we choose to live them.

It is brilliant. Absolutely fantastical.

What makes this movie even more perfect is not just making each character their own - both in design and personality - it's the all-important and often neglected rule of showing rather than telling what goes on. The characters move the story along terrifically, only speaking when necessary, often to explain the past or express thoughts to one another, leaving plenty of theatrical pantomime for the vast action sequences.

The designs and setting for the movie appear to be set in the future or even on a different Earth-like planet. But looking more closely, there are plenty of nods towards the 1920's and '30's in the use of derelict tanks, spitfires and architectural buildings yet indulges a futuristic/fantastical feel for the mutinous machines - the Seamstress, the Cat-Beast, the Winged Beast, the Fabrication Machine - these mute, expressionless beasts each have nods towards the Mystical Greek Monsters to an artistic eye while, amazingly, also maintain some form of character within them...

Shane admits himself on the DVD special features that it was more of a collaborative effort than all his own, and it really shows. Working from his original 10-minute student project, expanding it for the theatre with additional characters, their origins and a fuller storyline, Shane is clearly open to new ideas and accepting feedback from others; sharing out creativity from others - from story artists to animators to the voice cast - while inputting his own. Least of all that the team behind this movie opted for ideal voice actors, who become the characters they play, rather than forking out for big names who put little effort in their know which ones.

In short, Shane has filled me with hope for future animated-features to come. To run alongside Pixar and, hopefully, stamp out the bland, cut-and-paste clich├ęs of Hollywood storytelling by being, like all the "stitchpunk" ragdolls, different. Unique. Special =)

What really peaked my interest in Shane's work in recent months was hearing the news of him being brought forth to direct a new Thomas the Tank Engine movie for 2014, with visual designs by Weta Digital. Having been spellbound by 9, and after laying eyes on this stunning teaser poster (an actual Billington E2 locomotive, the original Thomas form in The Railway Series books, modelled by Nitrogen Studios of Canada), I seriously hope that the prepared script would showcase Shane's talents and skills further still, even injecting some of his own if possible.

While I do not wish for this Thomas movie to be as dark as 9, I honestly hope that it would do him proud - while also breathing new life into the Thomas brand in a respectable, mature light as opposed to the current flawed TV Series for the pre-school market...

Not what we could expect from the 2014 movie, but it's a tempting idea anyway - Oliver and his crew escaping from scrap in the Rev. W. Awdry's Enterprising Engines.

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