Recent future-minded movies, from “Wall-E” to “District 9,” have been fascinated with recycling as dystopian necessity. The sack-doll heroes in the animated film “9” are only the latest characters to eke out livings by sifting through heaps of broken refuse. This time, however, such imagery creates an uncomfortable analogy to the movie itself, which was cobbled together from an array of recognizable spare pop-culture parts that don't work together as well as they might look.
In “9,” Earth's machines have — what's this? — turned on their human creators and destroyed civilization. Except it's not our future that was destroyed this time but an alternate past's, ruled by some kind of Stalinist techno-military dictatorship that the machines — depending on your take — were cruel or wise enough to annihilate. Awakening late to this nightmare is Number 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood), who finds himself trying to survive with several other binocular-eyed, humanoid doll creatures who look like miniature sand people with their clothes off.
The story might be infused with futurephobia, but currently it arouses a great deal more suspicion for YouTube, where animator Shane Acker's 11-minute version gained enough prominence to attract Tim Burton, who helped expand the short to feature length. Screenwriter Pamela Pettler helped Acker add dialogue and plot, but the more junk that's grafted onto “9” the more it falls apart.
Our numbered heroes, we learn, were created in the image of an egghead scientist (Alan Oppenheimer), the same man who created the Machine that's trying to destroy the world. Attempting to atone, he fashioned each of the nine and set them to life with a part of his soul — though you may wonder which parts went into the mute, overstuffed 6, who looks like Casper the Friendly Ghost on 'roids, or 7 (Jennifer Connelly), who found time in her few weeks on Earth to perfect deadly ninja assassin skills.
In lengthy and routine chase sequences that take up most of the movie, the Machine sends a variety of specialized creations to rub out the nine, including a soldered feline called the Beast and a creepy spider-snake baby. Why would a machine bother to attach the useless head from a baby doll? Just one thought during “9” that could inspire dreams of unleashing annihilating robots of your own. (PG-13) 79 min. HIIII S