The Emoji Movie ½ / *****
Directed by: Tony Leondis.
Written by: Tony Leondis & Eric Siegel and Mike White.
Starring: T.J. Miller (Gene), James Corden (Hi-5), Anna Faris (Jailbreak), Maya Rudolph (Smiler), Steven Wright (Mel Meh), Jennifer Coolidge (Mary Meh), Patrick Stewart (Poop), Christina Aguilera (Akiko Glitter), Sofía Vergara (Flamenca), Rachael Ray (Spam), Sean Hayes ('Devil' Steven), Jake T. Austin (Alex), Tati Gabrielle (Addie), Jude Kouyate (Poop Jr. 'PJ'), Jeffrey Ross (Internet Troll).
It has always seemed rather silly – or at least pointless – to complain that a movie exists only to make money – all movies are made hoping that it will make money – or to help extend a brand – Disney for instance has always clearly valued their brand, and they’ve made some of the best animated films of all time, while extending their brand (Pixar has pretty much done the same). However much we want to believe in the sanctity of movie making, it has always been the art form of the masses, and has always had to try and find a way to balance art and commerce. But, dear reader, let me say this – The Emoji Movie shook me. On the surface, it may not seem any crasser to make a movie about emojis than it is to make them about the Angry Birds or Troll dolls – all three take a product that exists, and is popular, in one form, and tries to cash in one a movie version. The Angry Birds movie wasn’t really that good – but it wasn’t godawful either – basically, it was another forgettable animated film aimed at kids. I can see why one could hate the movie Trolls – it is so bright and noisy, it could give you a headache, but underneath it all, it was really rather sweet – and my two daughters absolutely adored it (I thought I was going to get out of seeing that one, because my daughter was invited to a birthday party to see it – but she came home from that party and said “Daddy, you have to see Trolls, it’s sooooooo good”, and I caved and took her a few weeks later). Yet, as much as I know that both of those movies are cynical ploys to milk money out of saps with kids like me – on the movie, and then on the merchandise – they are both paradigms of virtue compared to The Emoji Movie – which is without a doubt, the worst movie I’ve ever brought my kids to see in their short lives.
There is not an original moment in The Emoji Movie, who shamelessly steals everything in it from other, better movies – certainly Inside Out, but there are others. The basic premise of the film doesn’t even seem to be thought through – as confusing as the world of Cars and its sequel is, this one is 10 times worse. The basic premise is that inside all of our smart phones, there is a thriving city called Textopolois, where all the emojis live, just waiting to be called in for action by their user – in this case, a young teenage boy named Alex. The hero of the movie is Gene (voiced by TJ Miller) – who is supposed to be a “Meh” emoji, but is so complicated because he feels more than one emotion (maybe he’s Divergent!). Anyway, when he’s called into action the first time, he panics, makes the wrong face – drawing the ire of all the other emojis. Smiler (Maya Rudolph, the only good thing in the film) wants to delete him forever. Gene escapes – along with Hi-5 (James Corden) (and by the way, who spells it Hi-5?) and goes looking for the hacker known as Jailbreak (Anna Faris), hiding in the Piracy ap (do they have a Piracy ap?) who can apparently reprogram him.
I honestly don’t know quite where to begin with my utter disdain for the film. Is it the shameless and near constant product placement for everything from Candy Crush to Spotify to Crackle (Crackle? Who the hell uses Crackle?) to Dropbox and everything in between. Is it in the not thought out world of the film, that doesn’t make even the barest of logical sense? How about the constant poop jokes – where the poop emoji is voiced by Sir Patrick Stewart.
To be fair, I am struggling to figure out how one could go about making a movie about and starring Emojis and NOT make it terrible, but I’m also struggling to figure out how they could have made this one much worse. I understand, I suppose, why a movie about emojis wouldn’t really want to criticize emojis – wouldn’t, say, make the case that we are raising a generation of kids who express themselves through tiny pictures, instead of words (then again, something like The Lego Movie, another obvious inspiration) managed to do something similar itself.
But that would have taken thought and less than the total cynicism this movie possesses. I will be honest and say that my daughters – 6 and 3 – seemed to enjoy the movie. No, they didn’t love it like they did with Trolls or Moana or The Lego Batman Movie – but they had fun. Then again, they have fun watching Caillou, so they’re not overly discerning. In a few years, I may sit them both down, and make them watch The Emoji Movie again – and then we can talk about it – talk about why the movie is incompetent and cynical and depressing – maybe as part of a double bill with Inside Out, so they can see the difference, back to back.