Those characters that we control with the tip of a finger come to life in Sony Animation’s ‘The Emoji Movie’. Hidden within the messaging app is Textopolis, a bustling city where all your favorite emojis live, hoping to be selected by the phone’s user. In this world, each emoji has only one facial expression, except for Gene (T.J Miller), an exuberant emoji who was born without a filter and is bursting with multiple expressions. Determined to become “normal” like the other emojis, Gene enlists the help of his handy best friend Hi-5 (James Corden) and the notorious code breaker emoji Jailbreak. Together, they embark on an epic “app-venture” through the apps on the phone, each its own wild and fun world, to find the Code that will fix Gene. But when a greater danger threatens the phone, the fate of all emojis depends on these three unlikely friends who must save their world before it’s deleted forever. ‘The Emoji Movie’ is written and directed by Tony Leondis, and is rated PG for some rude humor.
For whatever reason, movies will often get a bad word of mouth through the grapevine of gossip, so nobody after will give that movie a fair read. More times than not, films that are given the dreaded 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, or a 1/10 by critics everywhere, are often the victim of unfair critiques from critics who clearly have not seen enough bad films and just want in on all of the fun of bashing. With that said, ‘The Emoji Movie’ is that rare film (if you can call it that) that deserves all of the beating that this word of mouth is dishing out. For my experience, this is as shameless as it gets for product placement. Films have been raked over the coals for less than this, yet here is a movie based entirely on the IPhone and all of its emojis and apps that take up valuable time in our days. This of course comes from Sony Animation Studios, the studio responsible for the very definition of whoring out your product, so it comes as no surprise that this lifeless garbage lacks the kind of inspiring or original story to hold its own amongst the growing field of smart kids movies that are popping up. Lets put it like this; There are films that I hated more in 2017, but none of those gave me as dull and lifeless of a time like this one did for 84 mind numbing minutes that I will never get back.
You will realize just how flat this story falls when the gears start to turn and you see the kind of repetition in direction that this film takes with other movies like ‘Wreck It Ralph’ or ‘Inside Out’. This definitely feels like a cheaper coming-of-age version to those plots, ripping off the very minimal of what fits their dreaded narrative that we’ve all see before. Gene is an underdog, Gene loses something valuable to him, Gene goes on a long distance journey, Gene befriends some wacky characters, Gene succeeds on a road to redemption. To me, this plot falls very flat because its evidenced by its lack of emotional depth or investment by the audience at home just how unimportant it feels when it stands in the way of the humor. More on that in a bit. For so much of this film, it just kind of stands in place because you see so much of what is coming long before they actually get there. It’s a math problem that you can do on a piece of paper, made even worse by clutching pacing that left a phone imprint on my hand from all of the times that I checked to see how much was left of the movie.
As for humor, I didn’t laugh once in the entire film, mainly because I find it difficult to believe that this film was trying anything beyond the wink-and-nod to the audience for the kind of things they see daily on their phones. It’s remarkable just how few actual setups for long-term laughs that there are in this movie, and instead the film would rather focus on these overused puns that continue to inform us of each Emoji’s personality. There is an attempt to poking fun at the awkwardness of teenage conformity to technology, but the only time that humans are seen in this film is when their phones start freaking out and making noises from the chaos going on inside of them. A trait that doesn’t make sense when you consider that the main kid in this movie could easily turn off his ringer to quiet the disturbing things that his phone is saying to him. The funny bone is really pinched tightest though, when it began taking us in and out of apps like Youtube and Candy Crush to sell time and eat up some precious minutes. Because of this, it doesn’t feel like this script was anything remotely more difficult than someone with a typewriter looking at their phone for the few spare ideas that rarely have the kind of cohesive flow to feel like anything other than a collection of moments instead of an acceptable whole. The kind of film where everyone is dumber for having watched it, and if laughs are a measurement of mental capacity, my auditorium sounded like everyone’s reactions were on vibrate.
The cast too is left with wasted efforts because of so little to work with within the material that always keeps them firmly grounded. I love T.J Miller, but it’s clear that the man isn’t getting the kind of scripts that bring his R-rated demeanor to life. As Gene, Miller doesn’t feel like the right man for the job vocally to match the facial reaction of his emoji, a point that does come out in a subplot early on in the movie, but continues to waste away the personality of one of Hollywood’s greatest scene stealers going today. In addition to Miller, we get turns from James Corden as Gene’s friend Hi-5, Anna Faris as Jailbreak, and Maya Rudolph as the antagonist Smiler who left me uncomfortable at every appearance. None of these valued actors have anything above conventionalism to bring to their roles, and never for a minute did I feel glued in on their changing situations. Faris is probably the only one who sounded any different from her normal delivery, but Jailbreak’s backstory is virtually ignored for the entirety of the plot, hinting at possible scenarios that we never get closure on. In a perfect world, Faris would rightfully steal this movie, but she doesn’t even want it when the others are gladly handing it to her on a platter, and the wasted efforts all around are a glowing reminder of what could’ve been from a film idea that feels outdated even in 2017.
If I do have one back handed compliment to say about the film, it is in its animation, which isn’t nowhere near the quality of a Pixar presentation, but is an improvement on past Sony animation films that feel jarring in their shading for character illustrations. ‘The Emoji Movie’ does have a deliciously appetizing color scheme that at least takes us on a visually stunning field trip of ambitious backdrops and energetic landscapes. The character outlines could use more definition on their physical outlines, because sometimes their colors will blend together when put in front of a backdrop with the same color, but it’s hard to fault them so much about this process when everything else is frankly so terrible about this presentation. The animation at least held its own in bringing to life the every day visuals from our smart phones that we have come to know, and while my mind was drowning in a sea of stupidity from everything mentioned prior, I at least had a spectrum that kept the film in beautiful surroundings.
THE VERDICT – Leondis’s ‘The Emoji Movie’ is the kind of film where writers and directors are never heard from again. A lumbering, lazy lack of intellectual fortitude whose only intention is the callous cash grab that does nothing for any age group. The visuals offer momentary bliss between the overwhelming lack of trying that plagued this film at every other turn. Emoji’s are meant to be the time saving methods of expressing emotions to other people, maybe too is this movie for the basic concepts of storytelling and entertainment value that it doesn’t find as remotely important.