The Emoji Movie (2017)
An adventure beyond words
There’s a scene towards the start of Sony Pictures’ latest computer-animated codswallop, The Emoji Movie, that clunkily tries to affiliate text-message glyphs, known as emoticons, with Egyptian hieroglyphics, the film insultingly likening the pair — sure, they’re both logographic languages, but hieroglyphics were much more formal, this revered system of symbols used for religious literature, whereas an emoji, well, I’ve use one to let others know I was taking a dump! (Can you see the connection?) This is just one example of how The Emoji Movie stinks of self-importance; here’s a film that thinks an elephant fart joke is comedy gold, uses Pikotaro’s ‘Pen Pineapple Apple Pen’ video to represent the whole of YouTube, then (later) sees Twitter fly in to save the day! Welcome to The Emoji Movie, a by-the-numbers 86-minute propaganda piece that’s sole intention is to sell smartphones and their corresponding apps.
The Emoji Movie, according to Sony, ‘unlocks the never-before-seen secret world inside your smartphone;’ though, this ‘secret life of’ idea is certainly nothing new, the mere concept spawning a bit of a subgenre — we’ve had the secret life of toys, Toy Story (1995), the secret life of LEGO, The LEGO Movie (2014), and just last year, The Secret Life of Pets (2016), which even contains the phrase ‘secret life of’ in its title. The difference between these similarly-themed pictures, however, is that toys, pets and, yes, even LEGO, are far more interesting than smartphones, because really, who gives a crap what emojis are doing when their users aren’t looking?
Our story takes place in the buzzy digital city of Textopolis (located inside of a messaging app), where ‘all your favorite’ emojis — including a green Ice Cream emoji I’ve never seen before and a Fish Cake with Swirl Design emoji I never knew existed — live together in harmony, each hoping to be chosen by the phone’s doofus user Alex (Jake T. Austin), a regular 14-year old boy — if this is what filmmakers are passing off as a ‘run-of-the-mill’ teen these days, the next generation’s in a whole lot of trouble. Enter Gene (T. J. Miller), a ‘meh’ emoji who, unlike most of his peers, happens to have more than just one facial expression, Gene struggling to be indifferent all the time, despite his nonchalant parents Mel and Mary’s best efforts — Gene’s father and mother voiced by Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge respectively, whose painstakingly dull, monotonous shtick gets old, fast!
Alas, on his first day working at Text Central Gene panics, the nervous ideogram making a confusing visage when Alex selects him to reply to a message from crush Addie McCallister (Tati Gabrielle). Consequently, Text Central is destroyed, the blunder leading head honcho Smiler (Maya Rudolph) to believe that Gene himself is a malfunction, the rosy-cheeked smiley, who rules with an iron fist, deciding to delete him as a result, this before Alex figures out that something had gone wrong with his phone (which he eventually does) and decides to expunge it; wouldn’t it be easier to re-start your phone first before choosing to totally wipe it? But then again, Alex is clearly not the brightest bulb in the box, the guy using lines from Rihanna’s ‘Diamonds’ on a love email (albeit deleted) to Addie — smooth kid, smooth!
Now, hunted by laser-equipped eraser bots, the clock counting down to the annihilation of his very world, Gene sets out to locate a hacker emoji named Jailbreak (voiced by comedian Anna Faris), a computer wiz that’s said to have the code, skills and knowledge required to fix Gene and make him ‘normal’ (just like all the other single-expression citizens), our hero enlisting the aid of a once-popular Hi-5 emoji (voiced by a gratingly annoying James Corden) determined to get his groove back.
In all fairness, The Emoji Movie isn’t total tripe, nor is the picture ‘a force of insidious evil,’ which is exactly what one prominent U.S. publication describes it as. True, the movie’s not very good, and that’s why it’s getting a thumbs-down from this critic. But, first things first, let’s look at its virtues, shall we?
Directed by the lesser-known Tony Leondis, Igor (2008) — who also shares a writing credit — The Emoji Movie is bursting with color and energy, the film, visually, a pixilated paradise. Textopolis, for one, is well conceptualized, the messaging hub vibrant and nicely stylized, while the general set-up of the (unbranded) phone universe is also quite impressive, each separate app its own self-contained realm, these all part of a connected digital expanse — a question, though, what do emojis actually eat given that many of them are consumable products? Furthermore, the design of the sun-colored smileys is rather spot-on, the emotive facials of our data denizens mirroring that of their textable counterparts, the look of most other computer-based characters/ applications possessing a sameness to their in-the-real-world equivalents — the Poop emoji is particularly well done, the talking turd voiced by Sir Patrick Stewart (kudos to this casting call).
Sure, The Emoji Movie is more-or-less one giant social-media advertisement, the flick choked in blatant product placement; a 30-second peep into popular Chinese app WeChat serves no purpose, narratively, this tasteless titbit inserted to shamelessly plug the message service, and to satisfy that lucrative Chinese market of course. With that said, some of the pic’s most engaging sequences, surprisingly, stem from watching familiar labels come to life; a scene that finds Gene trapped inside the Candy Crush app stands as a sugary high — I never thought I’d see the prevalent jelly-themed puzzle game played out on the silver screen — while a sequence that takes place within the Just Dance app is saved from being groan-inducing thanks to the inclusion of a spunky, pink-haired, ponytail sporting pop star named Akiko Glitter (voiced by singer-songwriter Christina Aguilera), the super-cool dance host created by artist Andy Bialk, the character sharing an uncanny likeness to Bialk’s designs on children’s television series Shimmer and Shine (2015) — don’t judge me, but for an animated character, this digitized diva is pretty dang hot!
Unfortunately, the narrative quickly drops Akiko into the trash, where, alongside a bunch of dirty Internet Trolls (who’ll no doubt eye-rape her) and some rejected Spam Mail, she’s destined to be flushed down the cellular toilet — a rather grim and unfitting end to an otherwise fun and peppy character. And this, folks, leads to the film’s negatives, and boy are there a shit-ton (insert Poop emoji)! Written by a cluster of scribes — including filmmaker Leondis, Mike White, School of Rock (2003), and relative noob Eric Siegel — The Emoji Movie blatantly borrows from far superior titles, features such as The Lego Movie, Wreck-It Ralph (2012) and Inside Out (2015) — the latter, you guessed it, another ‘secret life of’ film, this time, the secret life inside your brain.
Instead of trying their hand at something fresh or innovative (a missed opportunity if you ask me), or taking the time to comment on societal implications of the digital world and our smartphone dependent culture, moviemakers lazily regurgitate the same tired and dated, kid-friendly messages — think being true to oneself, overcoming adversity, trumping stereotypes, yada yada yada, these watered down and filtered (no, not through Instagram). Moreover, The Emoji Movie just ain’t funny, the flick peppered with lamebrain jokes — there’s a trio of briefcase-carrying monkeys who, wait for it, go on ‘monkey business’ (how original), this alongside a cluster of other witless and equally clichéd gags; guess what, The Firewall is a computerized wall, made of fire, and the Shrimp emoji, well, he ends up on the barbie. What schlock!
Adding insult to injury, the general storyline is plain nonsensical, The Emoji Movie riddled with implausibilities; the climax sees Alex unplug his phone late factory reset (the device 99% cleared), only to have everything come flooding back (umm, no), an act that, in reality, would surely wreak havoc on the system’s internals. Also, if you think about it, the film’s resolution makes little sense (it’s a re-jig of the complication, just with altered results), Alex’s entire situation severally over-played, too; besides, who walks into a telephone store unannounced then finds tech-support staff ready and raring to go — improbable if not impossible. Even design elements that sorta work, such as the personification of a Trojan Horse, are hindered by worrying themes, this critter found in a dingy piracy app hidden under a dictionary skin, The Emoji Movie claiming that there’s simply no use for dictionaries anymore seeing as, today, everyone can communicate entirely in monosyllables, a message that ‘words aren’t cool’ (this an actual line spoken in the a film) oozing through its circuits!
Concluding in an obligatory dance number, the electronic feelings embarrassingly grooving to Pitbull’s ‘Feel This Moment’ (cos, hey, it’s got the word ‘feel’ in it), The Emoji Movie is as cookie-cutter as they get, the picture a cynical and lazy exercise in filmmaking — if anything, it certifies the death of creativity in mainstream Hollywood, proceedings literally made up of brand-filled, icon-laden imagery and recycled ideas, its small flutters of imagination not enough to save it from being a big, fat ‘meh!’ I honestly felt ashamed sitting in the cinema. If watching characters surf the waves of Spotify and speak in hashtags is your kinda thing, you may enjoy The Emoji Movie a lot more than I did — I’m sure children will.
In its debut trailer, the apathetic Mr. Meh introduces audiences to the emoji’s first movie, an event he calls ‘almost too thrilling for words;’ for the sake of all that’s good and right in the world, let’s hope this very first emoji movie is also the very last!
2 / 5 – Average
Reviewed by S-Littner