The Emoji Movie and all the images you see in this review are owned by Columbia Pictures
Directed by Tony Leondis
I’m not ready for this. Seriously, why am I doing this!? WHAT HAVE I EVER DONE TO DESERVE THIS PUNISHMENT!? Actually, don’t answer that. Okay… focus. Deep Breathes. Sigh… So The LEGO Movie was a big hit and so was The LEGO Batman Movie which means the imitators and knock offs were sure to follow; culminating in THIS which I can only assume was the first idea that someone threw out at Sony and they just decided to run with it. It’s got a pretty good cast, and I have liked Sony Animation films in the past, so maybe this has a shot!? Yeah… probably not. The best thing we can hope for is that it won’t be TOO painful… So then! Will this be a SLAM DUNK for the Oscars, or have we somehow managed to find a new low in cinema? Let’s find out!!
The movie is all about the MAGICAL world of living apps that live inside all of our phones and in particular the messaging app that contains those ADORABLE and MARKETABLE Emojis we all love so very much! One such Emoji is a Meh in training named Gene (TJ Miller) who’s ready to start his first day as an… OFFICIAL Emoji… I guess. See, how it works is that these Emoji creatures wait around all day in vertical cubicles (basically a thirty by six Hollywood Squares setup) and are scanned whenever their MASTER USER wishes to use one of them. Why they couldn’t just have their pictures taken and then scan THOSE when the user needs them is beyond me, but asking questions like that only breaks the immersion! So anyway, Meh’s first day ends in utter disaster as he PANICS and makes the wrong face; leading to the user thinking the phone is malfunctioning and will therefore take it to be replaced. Now all the Emojis are ready to hang him in the middle of the street because he’s bringing about Armageddon with the good ol’ Smiley Emoji named… wait for it… SMILER (Maya Rudolph) leading the charge! He manages to escape with another Emoji named HI-5 (James Corden) who used to be one of the user’s favorites, but has fallen on hard times and needs to find a way to force himself back into their good graces and thinks that helping Gene find a way to… fix his bad Meh face I guess… will also lead to a solution to HIS problem. The answer comes in the form of a hacker named Jailbreak (Anna Faris) who agrees to rewrite their code or whatever if they can help her get to THE CLOUD! Okay then. Will Gene find a way to be more meh, or is his less meh qualities really a gift instead of curse? Will the three of them manage to save the phone and live for another few months before their owner switches out his current one for the latest model? What sick and twisted God is responsible for giving such miserable creatures any degree of sentience AND WHY AM I SITTING THROUGH THIS NIGHTMARE!?
Let’s just get this out of the way. No beating around the bush this time, we’re gonna dive RIGHT the fuck in! This movie is AWFUL. It’s irredeemably bad in the way that only the most cynically developed movies CAN be in just how little ambition it has to be utterly mediocre to its core. It does EVERYTHING in its power to not rock the boat in the slightest way possible and ensuring that the Pablum that parents are feeding to their kids is as bland as possible, and they succeeded. It’s not a film that’s overtly offensive or even all that incompetent as the damn thing LOOKS just fine, but every frame of it is crafted for the audience to forget it as soon as it moves on to the next one, and while I’m no stranger to shitty kids films, I’m still sitting here agog at what the fuck I just had to sit through and just how insipid it ended up being. It may not be as bad as some other movies that are utterly broken down to its core (*cough* King Arthur *cough*), but this is the kind of movie I detest the most. The movie that seems to revel in just how much contempt it has for its audience while giving them the widest mouth Use Car Salesman grin imaginable; ticking off boxes on the HOW TO SUCKER RUBES checklist and pretending its doing everyone a favor by going THAT far. It’s exactly what you thought it was going to be, and that’s just too depressing to even comprehend.
If I were to point to a single unifying problem that the movie has, it’s the world building to try and justify the world these characters live in, in so far as there really isn’t any. Instead, they try to rip off better movies like Toy Story, The LEGO Movie, Inside Out, and Wreck It Ralph, with no understanding of why those movies were good in the first place. Since we’re on the topic, let’s discuss ANTHROPOMORPHISM which is the starting point for all of these movies. If you don’t know, Anthropomorphism is the practice of attributing human traits, emotions, and intentions onto non-human entities and in fiction its most commonly used to explore our relationships with those concepts and/or objects. This is used to brilliant in movies like Toy Story and The LEGO Movie as their emotional core relies on that connection that children (also adults) have with their playthings and is a fantastic starting point for sincere and heart felt drama to go along with the goofy antics. Wreck it Ralph and Inside Out work a bit differently with the former more or less eschewing the connections to humanity to instead tell a character piece about self-acceptance within the trappings of video game ephemera, and the latter being more of a metaphorical representation of a character’s inner turmoil rather than something the character themselves would have an attachment to. All of these examples work because they are fully aware of what story they are trying to tell and why the anthropomorphism is important. Here? It’s about as slap dash and halfhearted as you can imagine and has no idea how to merge its ideas together.
There’s a boy in the movie named Alex who owns the phone that the Emojis live in, but his part in the story is completely perfunctory and is only there because Toy Story did it. The problem is though that kids today simply aren’t interacting with their phones (or more specifically the applications within them) the same way they do with other possessions. Look, I’m the clingiest mother fucker who ever lived (ask how many DVDs and VHS tapes I have lying around) and even I can’t fathom how someone is supposed to grow attached to not just a minor feature in a phone app, but one that is available on EVERY SINGLE DEVICE THAT A KID WILL EVER HAVE. Nostalgia works differently in the digital age, and what we grow attached to often isn’t constrained by physical wear and tear. A beloved toy getting thrown out can be a heart wrenching moment in a child’s life, but upgrading from one phone to another doesn’t have that same connotation considering what was important was the stuff INSIDE the phone; not the freaking Emojis that are standardized across all devices, but pictures you took or apps that you liked. Even your music collection which can easily be transferred from one to another! The weird thing is that this movie ALMOST understands that in one scene where we explore the kid’s Instagram profile, but this one scene is the only time we even approach an idea like that and we swiftly go back to APP JOKES and THESE DARN KIDS WITH THEIR PHONE clichés. Other than that one brief moment, the movie doesn’t seem to understand why phones are so important nowadays and how kids are growing up with them. Instead, they’re simply trying to do a retread of what’s been done a million times before only with a new brand slapped on top of it. Like I said, the damn thing is manufactured to be as bland as possible and trying to impart the slightest bit of wisdom was simply not in the game plan.
Even beyond my objections to putting forth such meaningless content, the movie can’t even manage to function on a nuts and bolts level of film making. Sure, it LOOKS nice and the actors are… fine I guess (WHAT THE HELL IS STEVEN WRIGHT DOING IN THIS!?), but the pacing is all over the map and the mechanics of the plot that are designed to build tension are completely unintelligible. There’s a thing called Digital Death brought up at one point, but then that seems to be completely different from being sent to the trash (wouldn’t it be a HUGE security risk for a game to be able to erase data if you lose at it?), they never bother to explain why they need a whole CITY of these freaking Emoji creatures when only thirty or so actually DO anything, and it’s impossible to gauge any characters motivation from scene to scene. It gets worse with the individual character arcs that feel like a facsimile of progressive ideas, but done without the talent or courage to give them any bite. The main female character is a hacker named Jailbreak (how is a piece of code WITHIN a system a hacker?) and they try to give her a GIRLS CAN BE MORE THAN JUST PRINCESSES shtick which would be GREAT for a movie like this, but like everything else its half assed and misses the point entirely. She may not be a GIRLY stereotype, but her designs is still one we’ve seen a million times before as the archetypal FEMALE HACKER trope, and the movie’s own story ends up undercutting whatever message she was TRYING to impart with the final act that portrays her own agency as the inciting incident for a male character’s personal crisis. That’s right. The big conflict in the third act that could lead to the destruction of everything is exacerbated by a woman hurting a man’s feelings and she then has to take responsibility for it; leaving her own dreams behind to prop up a dude’s ego. This is the kind of crap you get when all you’re doing is checking off “relevant” topics yet can’t even be bothered to expand upon them or have them fit into the narrative and it’s just a microcosm of everything that’s wrong with this movie.
Is there a good movie that could have been made about Emojis? Eh… probably not one that a studio like Sony would want to make, but sure. As I said, how we all relate to our devices, ESPECIALLY children, feels like an under explored aspect of our culture and the only time people DO bring it up is to heap scorn and derision like a bunch of old fogies just learning about the INTER-WEBS and such. That would require actual talent and introspection though which this movie is sorely lacking in by design and that makes it all the more freaking depressing to sit through. Maybe this will be the one that goes too far into insipidness that general audiences will reject it and we can keep the bar from being lowered just a bit; not that someone going to see this means their wrong to do so (no matter how freaking awful it is), but on the BIGGER scale of what gets attention at the box office, I would love to see this freaking thing tank and maybe send Sony a message that the NEXT movie they make has to have SOMETHING to engage its audience with other than just a recognizable… thing. Might I suggest another Hotel Transylvania sequel!? Okay, that’d hardly be original, but those movies are WAY better than this utterly pointless waste of everyone’s time!!