New Review: The Emoji Movie (2017)
Director: Tony Leondis
Cast: T.J. Miller, Anna Faris, James Corden, Jake T. Austin, Maya Rudolph, Tati Gabrielle, Sir Patrick Stewart, Steven Wright, Jennifer Coolidge, Sofia Vergara, and Christina Aguilera
There is a scene in The Emoji Movie where teenage smart phone user Alex (Jake T. Austin) has to delete his Just Dance app from his phone, because it keeps playing music while he’s in class, and he’s apparently one of the few smart phone users in the world who doesn’t know how to put his phone on mute. Once he does this, we cut into the app and see the super cool dancer avatar (Christina Aguilera) look on in horror as the app world she lives in is destroyed before her very eyes. In a later scene set in the phone’s trash bin, we see that same dancer curled up in a ball and crying in fear over her approaching death.
Because that’s what happens when you delete an app off your phone. The cute characters and the world they inhabit are subjected to a slow and psychologically torturous demise. So remember kids, don’t you dare delete an app from your smart phone, because if you do, you’ll be responsible for the massacre of countless digitized innocents. Why would you do that, huh? I mean, what did they ever do to you?!?!
I could definitely see this being funny had The Emoji Movie taken the Sausage Party approach and go for the hard R raunchy humor. There’s a moment where our heroes enter a piracy app, a place where Alex is said to hide things that he doesn’t want his parents to see. Just think of how much could have been done with this scene had the movie been given an R rating. Because I’m thinking today’s teenagers have some pretty R-rated stuff on their phones, although I could be wrong.
However, The Emoji Movie is rated PG and is being advertised to kids, which makes the aforementioned app deletion scene all the more sinister and disturbing. There’s some serious product placement going on here, as the movie is a journey through a phone that features apps like Candy Crush, Twitter, Drop Box, and Youtube. I’m sure app creators are always looking for the chance to advertise to the kiddies, and what better way to do that than with a movie that promises kids that unspeakably horrible things will happen should they delete those apps from their phone?
The film’s ugly and wrong-headed message is made even worse now that it’s been delivered in such a colorful and kid-friendly package, although to be fair, kids might be too bored by the movie's flimsy double stories to really take notice. In one story, we follow Alex, a high school kid who has a huge crush on cute girl Addie (Tati Gabrielle), and doesn’t know what emoji to send to her in a text message. He’s really shy, you see, although he can’t be that shy, since he already scored the girl’s digits.
In the second story, we follow “meh” emoji Gene (T.J. Miller), a resident of Textopolis who’s excited about working in “the cube” at the text center for the first time. You see, that’s where emojis go and wait until their phone user selects them to be sent out in a message. The head honcho at the text center is Smiler (Maya Rudolph), whose big toothy grin is the stuff of nightmares, and the one rule she strictly enforces is that every emotion emoji must stick to their one emotion. Gene, it seems, has mastered every emotion except “meh,” so when he freaks out and inadvertently destroys much of the cube, it’s decided by Smiler and a boardroom full of other emojis that Gene is a malfunction and needs to be destroyed.
There are narrative similarities here to the vastly superior Inside/Out, where we followed a young character in one story, and a world connected to that character in another. In that case, it was the world inside head of a young girl, and the reason that movie worked so well is because the fantastical world in the one story really developed the main character in the other. Yes, a cute character died there as well, but it was such a great and heart felt scene because it touched on some poignant truths about growing up and that child-like innocence we lose when we eventually do.
The Emoji Movie is all about product placement. It touches on no universal truths, and does so in a highly unwatchable manner. There are moments where it tries to be profound, and it was there that I cringed the hardest. One line that is repeated more than once is, “What good is being number one if there aren’t any other numbers?” No, seriously! That’s actually a line in the film. Somebody thought up that line and said “yes” to it being in the movie. Why? Just…WHY?!
The writing is so flat and so lazy that it leaves you wondering how it could’ve attracted the attention of such a talented cast like Sir Patrick Stewart (who plays the Poop emoji), James Corden (who plays Gene’s buddy Hi-5), Anna Farris (who plays a helpful hacker named Jail Break), and Maya Rudolph. There’s a tedious subplot involving Gene’s parents wondering through the phone looking for their son which features a twist about Papa “meh” (Steven Wright) that’s so frustrating, that when Mama “meh” (Jennifer Coolidge) asks him why he didn’t tell her his secret before, all I could think was “Good question!” If he had told her his secret earlier, then much of what happens in the movie could have been avoided.
I honestly don’t know who The Emoji Movie was made for. It’s not funny (although to be fair, the scene where the Candy Crush app interrupts Alex when he tries asking Addie out was cute), it’s not entertaining, and while the animation is decent, you’ve certainly seen better-looking animated movies than this one. In fact, that’s the best that can be said about this movie. It’s better looking than something like Norm of the North. When that’s the highest compliment that you can give a big-budget animated film, you know that something’s definitely wrong.
Final Grade: ½ * (out of ****)