So sue me, it was Halloween night and I felt like renting something that could potentially scare my pants off- namely Sony’s The Emoji Movie, both in spite of and also due to its infamous reputation. Lemme tell ya, morbid curiosity is a danger to us all.
I swear by all deities, I can’t think of the last time I saw any film, be they animated or otherwise, that was either this bland or this cynical. Plot-wise, it literally does nothing new at all, aside from Sony shoving so much advertising for iPhone apps down my throat to where I wanted to throw it back up. You think you love money? The Emoji Movie will turn you off capitalism faster than you can say “workers of the world unite.” This film badly needed a Rage Against The Machine “No Shelter” -type song on the soundtrack, Godzilla ’98 style: Gene Meh, pure motherfuckin’ filler, to get your eyes off the real killer…
Who is Gene Meh, you ask? Voiced by T.J. Miller, he’s an emoji who lives in the phone of a teenage boy, in a city called Textopolis. Led by Smiler (Maya Rudolph), who assigns each emoji to a cubicle in order to be pressed and showcase their sole expression, he hopes to make his laconic parents Mel (Steven Wright) and Mary (Jennifer Coolidge) proud, but his expressions and feelings are just too varied. If one emoji can’t properly fulfill their role inside their cube, they’re regarded as a malfunction.
Things like this could tempt Alex (Jake T. Austin), the phone’s young owner who’s working up the courage to talk to a girl, to take his phone back to the store and erase the content. This, of course, would be an apocalypse for the emoji community, so Smiler sics her antivirus goons on Gene to delete him.
Ok, so there are some stakes at play here, but the “all you have to do is be yourself” message feels muddled given that Gene’s goal is to reprogram his multiple emotions away so that he can fit in. I know he’s eventually going to realize the fallacy of this goal, but what we have here is a protagonist who is fighting to conform and erase his individuality. I can’t help but think of how Judy Hopps was introduced in Zootopia, who was determined to change the world around her from the very first frame.
Alongside the wisecracking Hi-5 Emoji (James Corden), Gene enlists the help of a rogue hacker emoji named Jailbreak (Anna Faris), who can lead them past phone perils (such as firewalls and Just Dance apps) and get them to Dropbox. Yes, that’s the root goal of this film, transferring data to the Dropbox on your phone. Jailbreak’s character feels oddly dated, a purple haired girl who feels the need to reiterate her independence to the two male emojis- she gets pissed whenever they assume she has feminine traits.
T.J. Miller reflected on the film’s progressive tone in an interview, stating “…because you are a woman, you can be anything you want to be because your potential is limitless.” That’s certainly true and it’s a good message to promote, but ‘Break’s sense of girl power is straight out of the 1980’s. Yeah, there’s still progress to be made, but couldn’t they have experimented or toyed with this character a little, so that she can come off as original as she claims to be?
Don’t constantly tell me who you are, show me. This is an issue that affects the entire movie, as most of the jokes don’t go beyond referencing something and just aims for the easiest, surface level humor possible. I think I mildly chuckled during one scene where Gene is trapped in a Candy Crush game and his two friends envision how he might die, but that was it. On top of that, Gene might not be gratingly obnoxious as Hi-5- but despite his range of expressions, he’s a rather dull protagonist. It makes me feel bad for Miller, because I think he’s an entertaining actor who’s been charming in other works, but he’s given nothing to work with here.
When compared to other animated films of its era, the character designs and visuals are about average (aside from The Cloud, which looks fairly pretty). There’s some nice use of color at points, but not much in the way of notable detail- Pixar or even Dreamworks probably don’t have much to fear here. Weird-looking characters based on digital archetypes, like freakish green internet trolls and elderly emoticons, pass through the screen just to contribute some lame puns and/or gags.
One would think there could be great comedy potential in casting the well-ranged Patrick Stewart as the Poop Emoji, given how hard the character was advertised, but he hardly does anything aside from referencing the fact he’s made of poop. It’s another example of studios putting an unlikely actor in a project solely because the joke is that it doesn’t suit them. God, this film is lazy.
At no point should I be thinking to myself “please, please make me feel something genuine, anything!” during a film, but watching Emoji Movie that shot through my mind multiple times. There’s no soul, no sense of grit or real imagination to the story or character development. Even some of the more cutesy Disney or even Bluth’s later films have more edge than this.
Hell, I felt more heart and humanity while watching the My Little Pony movie- Twilight at least got enough development to where I can say I truly cared about her and the other horses. That movie had some clichés, and it was pushing merchandise pretty hard itself, but it’s The Godfather compared to this schlock. I can tell the crew at Hasbro and Allspark had other things on their mind aside from counting up the deadz.
Next to no time is given for any moments to gel. Gene, Jailbreak and Hi-5 spend 98% of this film hopping between different apps, engaging with its function and running from Smiler’s troops. But you need to do more than throw pretty colors and wacky commercials on the screen to make a truly great family movie, and that’s all this film is- a collection of subpar commercials strung together with a thin plot. Whatever attempts there are at heartfelt moments feel oddly stilted, as if the filmmakers were trying to dilute any emotional impact any scene might have.
Maybe it’d help if the writers could break away from the corny gags for one moment just so something can feel like it has actual weight. When Mel and Mary Meh have an argument and marital tensions as they search for their son, they’re still maintaining the deadpan expressions and voices, so whatever heft there could have been is almost deliberately reduced. If they don’t care, why should I?
The Emoji Movie was a chore for me to sit through. I didn’t even come in wanting to hate it, I was ready to give it a chance and perhaps be “that guy” who defends it. Yeah, that wasn’t happening today. There isn’t even much that’s bad enough to make it hilariously awful, like The Room or Can’t Stop The Music. If anything, I’m disappointed that the cast and crew couldn’t transcend the premise or material, because the voice actors and the animators here aren’t totally inept. And there’s nothing wrong with promoting individuality.
But most of the time, it’s boring. It’s so damn boring. You’ll probably find yourself groaning at the lame comedy, annoyed by the lack of plot and non-stop crass commercialism, or just screaming “End! END!” in the vein of Tom Servo. Not recommended in the slightest, not even for young children- they deserve much more imaginative and honest entertainment than this.