9's "stitchpunk" universe offers cinema a new fantasy realm as a group of mechanical rag dolls represent the remainder of human life in a post-apocalyptic world. It has a strong fantasy pedigree, too, with directors Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch, Day Watch) and Tim Burton (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands) producing and some fantasy heavyweights providing the voices.
Elijah Wood and Jennifer Connelly could compare 9 to their earlier films The Lord of the Rings and Labyrinth, respectively.
As the voice of 9, the most hopeful and idealistic of the creatures, Wood saw another quest hero similar to Frodo Baggins. "I'm certainly familiar with it, but I also think it's a very old construct," Wood said in an exclusive interview on Aug. 21 in Beverly Hills, Calif. "The notion that there's an innocent or a character that must achieve something by way of a quest or a journey, I think that's something that we, in a lot of ways, can relate to. You see a lot in fantasy stories and sci-fi stories and all kinds of storytelling, the notion that a character has to accept a sense of responsibility and then take a journey on some level to achieve it."
One of Connelly's first films as a teenage actress was Labyrinth. She played Sarah, a girl wandering through a fantasy realm full of Jim Henson puppetry to save her baby brother from the Goblin King. Providing a voice-over for the computer-animated 9 was the other end of the fantasy spectrum.
"Over the years I've had other experiences working with things that aren't there, that are just sort of described [to you]," Connelly said in a separate exclusive interview. "Labyrinth was all puppetry. They were there. Everything was there. There was no CGI. We were all there together, so it was just embracing those characters. This is more akin to doing blue screen or green screen work, where you've gotten a description of what you're looking at and a description of what the action sequence is, and you're trying to fit into it."
Connelly has also worked in action films like The Rocketeer and Hulk, but 9 gives her her first action heroine character. She plays 7, a stitchpunk girl who boldly ventures into the world and fights mechanical beasts.
"She's so fierce, and she's so brave," Connelly bragged. "I loved playing that sort of kick-ass character, and part of me would really like to do an action film at some point."
Wood had done voice-over before, in another, vastly different sort of quest film. In Happy Feet he played Mumble, a penguin who could not sing. Ostracized from his friends and family, he wandered the Antarctic looking for acceptance.
"It's definitely different," Wood said. "Happy Feet is quite a large production. There's a lot of dancing, there's singing and a lot of comedy. Even though my character wasn't necessarily called on to be funny per se, I was surrounded by a different kind of energy. My character's journey is quite different as well. So this character was very different, and the experience of making this was very different. It's a much more intense story. It's a darker story, and the character's in a much darker world."
9 director Shane Acker had some classic fantasy references as well. "I grew up on Spielberg films and the Lucas films, which were edgy," Acker said in a separate, exclusive interview. "They were frightening. There were horror elements in those films. But, at the same time, there was humor and real human emotion in those films as well. So I think that I wanted to make a film that was, to me, kind of like the films that I grew up watching, or the Ray Harryhausen films, Clash of the Titans and all these kinds of things, real escapist fantasy films, or even the Henson films, like Dark Crystal and things. There's a lot of darkness in them, and it was edgy."
9 opens Sept. 9.