If 2017 felt like a political nadir, then The Emoji Movie was the cultural low point. A film as lazy and uncreative as its title suggests, it ferries us inside the world of smartphone emojis who are confronting an existential crisis. The general idea is not terrible; children’s entertainment is full of gabby inanimate objects and there’s no reason smileys can’t have their day, but don’t be fooled by this poorly plotted app store marketing scheme. Do we really need a movie that encourages us to have a closer relationship with our smartphones?
The human in the story, Alex (Jake T. Austin), is a high school student with a crush. He is trying to win the affections of his classmate Addie by texting her, not crafty sonnets but strings of emojis. Sending these graphics is not simply a matter of poking an image and waiting for it to pop up on someone else’s screen, however. Buried deep in Alex’s phone is the bustling city of Textopolis where all the emojis live. When Alex chooses one, they must hold their pose while a camera scans their image, which is then sent to the receiver.
Gene (T.J. Miller) is a “meh” emoji and longs to get his face in the pictures as it were, but his parents (Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge) worry he’s not ready for the big time. Being “meh” emojis themselves, their impassioned plea registers as varying levels of indifference. Gene, on the other hand, is hyperactive for a “meh,” hence his parents’ hesitation to let him loose. They worry that he won’t be able to look sufficiently bored when called upon. In the end, he gets his way and the job but freaks out the moment he’s summoned by Alex. The camera captures him looking very un-“meh,” and he pulls a surprised-confused-horrified look that ends up on Addie’s phone, to her shock.
All emoji/smartphone hell breaks loose. Smiler (Maya Rudolph), an original emoji and therefore the one who’s running the joint, also has a freak out. But her anger paired with her megawatt grin is something out of a horror movie. She sends her bots to find and delete Gene, which is a terrifying prospect. Do you want your kids watching emoji murder? Luckily Gene finds some friends who are willing to help a fugitive. Hi-5 (James Corden) is seized with self-doubt and has some anger issues after getting booted from Alex’s favorites. Jailbreak (Anna Faris) turns out to be a princess emoji who’s sick of being a princess.
The message is about embracing yourself instead of your stereotypes. It’s about self-expression and being comfortable with your many emotions. Fine. I can get behind that completely. But omg ffs, as Alex might put it, does it have to be so boring? This movie is offensively dull. The humorless script reads like an engineer’s lab report. Part of this is my fault for being old and naturally tuning out when Jailbreak drones on about interfacing and the cloud and malware, but even if the young people understand it, I don’t think they’ll be entertained by it. Besides Jailbreak just telling us what she’s doing all the time, the movie too easily falls back on things that have been done before. The plot bears some resemblance to Inside Out but lacks all the emotional depth and sensitivity. It’s also a [insert eye roll emoji] parade of product placement. Looks like Candy Crush, Instagram, and Spotify have found another way to bully us into submission. Well let’s show them, and never watch this film.
Oh yeah, Patrick Stewart voices the poop emoji.
Prod: Michelle Raimo Kouyate
Dir: Tony Leondis
Writer: Tony Leondis, Eric Siegel, Mike White
Cast: T.J. Miller, Anna Faris, James Corden, Maya Rudolph, Steven Wright, Jennifer Coolidge, Patrick Stewart, Christina Aguilera, Sofia Vergara, Sean Hayes
Time: 86 min
Country: United States