Now I usually enjoy giving a terrible film a booting as much as the next reviewer, but there’s something about The Emoji Movie that’s so utterly dispiriting that it even takes the joy out of that.
Rather than simply being utterly misjudged in the way that, say, Batman V Superman –that redoubtable object of loathing for me, was misjudged – The Emoji Movie gives no impression that anyone ever sincerely expected it to be good. You can scarcely imagine they thought anyone would enjoy it.
This is a movie that, unlike last year’s The Angry Birds – also from Sony and itself no prize-winning goose – The Emoji Movie doesn’t even have a core mechanic on which to riff. It’s about the rich inner lives and deeply meaningful interactions of – and this cannot be overstated – fucking emojis. You know, ideograms meant to convey the most basic human emotions and some random shit, like, I dunno, lost luggage.
Rather than use the randomness to introduce a little anarchy into proceedings, The Emoji Movie proceeds to dump all the weird, interesting ones in a literal basement and instead focus its limited attention span on ripping off Inside Out and Wreck-It Ralph, among others. There is, by the way, a bit of opening narration about limited attention spans and the role that apps play in our lives, which looks like, for a moment, might be leading to some sort of through-line, some sort of commentary even, on our modern preoccupation with technology as a means of distraction. The film then promptly forgets about that forever; the irony of which would be palpable if this were a film that went into irony. Or, you know, anything.
Instead, we get Gene (voiced by the generally very funny T.J. Miller of Silicon Valley and Deadpool), a meh emoticon whose against-type excitably makes it unlikely that he will ever get to play a part in the day-to-day operation of Textopolis. He’s basically Emmet from The Lego Movie – the film even introduces him preparing for the day – only everything is fucking awful. The Lego Movie was, after all, despite the branding, a testament to the power of imagination; to communal play; to thinking outside the box. These are, and I repeat, fucking emojis.
Anyway, Gene gets given a chance to be the meh emoji for the day by his parents (Steve Wright & Jennifer Coolidge), two fully committed meh emojis— And wait a minute, does this mean emojis fuck? It’s a question I can at least take some small solace in knowing it’s likely never having been asked before and hopefully never will be again.
Anyway, a lack of committed world-building with regards to mating habits is the least of the film’s peccadilloes. More concerning is the unmitigated cynicism of the whole endeavour. Having screwed up on his first day, Gene is deemed a “malfunction” by Smiler (voiced by the generally very funny Maya Rudolph), who sets the software ‘bots on him; thereby forcing him to go on the run with Hi-5 (voiced by James Cordon – mileage may vary), a hand emoji who has recently fallen out of popularity with the phone’s user, Alex, and whose only purpose seems to be in providing the setup for endless throwaway hand puns. The Angry Birds Movie had the same problem with pig puns, but at least their means of delivery didn’t tend to be quite so obnoxious.
Gene and Hi-5 hook up with Jailbreak (voiced by the generally very funny Anna Harris), a punky hacker – who bears a striking resemblance to Wyldstyle from, you probably guessed it, The Lego Movie – and proceed to skip through various Sony-owned mobile apps masquerading as set pieces. There’s Candy Crush, Just Dance, and one involving giggling puppies that doesn’t seem to exist yet but presumably will soon and which doesn’t even pretend to have any relation to the “plot”.
The Emoji Movie‘s look is bright and sugary – which at least makes it go down easily – but the film on the whole is more offensive in its utter studio-mandated banality than Sausage Party – yet another Sony production – was in its attempt to actually piss people off; though hopefully the animators at least were properly recompensed for this one. Christ knows they’re unlikely to want it on their CVs.
The morals, meanwhile, a frequent and varied and include such gems as, “What’s the point in looking out for number one if that’s the only number?” The film lacks a single good gag; even one on the level of the sole funny, and urine-related moment, from its predecessor. Speaking of number ones, and by extension twos, Patrick Stewart – Sir Patrick Stewart – voices a turd; an actual pictographic turd.
You could call The Emoji Movie “lowest common denominator” but that would be both an insult to maths (“Hey, don’t drag me into this”) and a pretty hopeless prognosis on the future of humanity.
I flatter myself in thinking that my reviews might help someone decide whether or not to see a film, or at least provide something of a steer through the crowded multiplex. In the case of The Emoji Movie, I can’t, as with the Sony execs, genuinely imagine anyone thinking it’d be good.
If you’re planning on taking your kids just so you can park them in front of the screen and catch up on your emails for ninety minutes, don’t. You deserve more. Your kids deserve more. If you’re planning on seeing it just to see how bad it is, don’t. There’s a reason The Emoji Movie‘s been able to compete with Dunkirk in the box office rankings. All Sony’s looking for from this film is a cash grab. Don’t add your to the pile.
No one’s reasonably asking for another Inside Out – which managed to show the developing emotional complexity of a child through similar emotional archetypes – but does children’s entertainment have to be this hideously capitalistic? Here the kid’s arc is that he manages to get the girl he likes because his phone sends the right sequence of emojis to reveal him as a free spirit and thereby win her heart.
Humanity is fucking doomed.