by Philip Price
This may come as a shock to many of you, but “The Emoji Movie” is not good. In fact, it's really bad. Bad in the way that it doesn't even try much of the time. Bad in the way that it is intended to be a funny children's film with a message about championing individuality and being yourself, but even that tried and true formula falls flat. Did I say it was supposed to be funny? It's not funny. It tries, it has obvious attempts at humor, but it's not funny. Worse, it has a talented and typically hilarious group of people providing the voices for much of these humanoid expressions that exist in a world that doesn't make much sense in the first place. Let's start over as this would be the initial issue that only leads to more of these problems that spawn from the fact this is a movie based on emoji's. It would probably be big of me to say that this movie isn't bad simply because it is a movie based on emoji's, but it is. It represents everything wrong with the studio system from the perspective of attempting a cash grab without any measure of creativity or thought put into the actual work. There are no signs of life within this thing other than our protagonist going through the motions of feeling like an outcast, being brave enough to break out of his shell, and discover that it's OK to be different. That's all well and good, but you as well as your kids have seen this countless times before and “The Emoji Movie” brings nothing new to it with the fact it's emoji's going through these (e)motions only making it that much more grating. Worse even, it's beyond transparent that writer/director Tony Leondis (2008's terrible “Igor” as well as a few other animated shorts) and his two co-writers Eric Siegel (a TV veteran) and Mike White (Mike White!) could care less about the movie they are working on. No doubt receiving an assignment from head honchos at Sony Animation that they needed something aimed at the kids after their one-two punch for teens and adults with “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Baby Driver” the studio latched on to current trends via “The LEGO Movie” and “Wreck-it Ralph” and demanded a movie based on those faces kids were using to communicate with on their phones. Leondis, Siegel and White mix in a little “Toy Story” as well with hopes of no one noticing and yet “The Emoji Movie” is so distractingly bad that it doesn't become an issue of the movie being based around characters who are emoticons, but more the fact the whole thing never breaks through that barrier of convincing us why it's necessary.
To describe what happens in “The Emoji Movie” or to try and attempt to describe how the world that exists in “The Emoji Movie” functions would be to try and make sense out of it, but that's kind of impossible. Still, here we go...the story centers around Gene (T.J. Miller) who was born a "Meh" emoji (so many questions already!) to his parents Mel and Mary Meh (Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge who produce some of the only inspired moments in the movie) who, like all emoji's, is destined to work on the board of emoji's where they provide the faces they were born with to whoever their assigned "user" is; "user" meaning human with a cell phone (but not an iPhone, this is a Sony movie after all). So, essentially, these emoji's live to stand in a cubicle all day only to *maybe" be picked by the big guy upstairs every occasionally, and when they are they are scanned making their pre-determined face that is then sent through their user's phone. See the biggest flaw in this premise already? There is no need for the world to exist in the first place. Why don't they just scan all the emoji's once, store them on the phones hard drive and upload them when necessary to good ole Alex (Jake T. Austin) who has a crush on a girl who he apparently can't talk to without the help of emoji's. Had the writers have gone this route they might have created a more interesting and original conflict where something happens with the stored emojis on Alex's phone and Gene comes to be the only one who can fix it given he has the power to make multiple expressions due to the fact some of the emojis haven't made their "faces" in such a long time that they're becoming less and less like their original state. I literally made that up as I was typing it and I would much rather see that movie than the one I saw about Gene where he flips out his first day on the job because he can't make his "meh" face properly and is then chased through a handful of different apps on the phone because the mayor of text town or whatever it's called, Smiler (Maya Rudolph turned up to eleven), wants to delete Gene after labeling him a defect. Of course, Gene needs friends to go on this journey of self-discovery with and so enter Hi-5 (James Corden) as a once popular emoji who has since been relegated to the loser's lounge and Jailbreak (Anna Faris) a rogue emoji looking to escape to the cloud and who Gene believes might be able to help fix his defectiveness; cue the awkward emoji love story (so many questions!).
Part of me really wanted to give this movie a shot despite every particle of my being telling me it was going to be a waste of time and money (it is, don't take your children to this). Part of me was hoping, even though I knew deep down in my soul it wouldn't, that “The Emoji Movie” might surprise me if not to the extent that “The LEGO Movie” did maybe at least in a similar fashion where the creators put enough imagination and were invested in trying to make something slightly original that I'd be compelled to forgive the fact this was a movie based around modern day hieroglyphics, but no-nothing. As I sat watching the movie unfold I couldn't help but to think if this might appeal to children. Trying to gauge the audience reactions around me at a five o'clock showing on the Thursday evening before the Friday the movie opened and very rarely did laughs come from even the smallest children in the audience. I mean, even “The Angry Birds Movie” had its moments and was pleasing on a visual level to the extent that it could be. “The Emoji Movie” rarely gets a laugh sans the too few moments when Wright and Coolidge's characters are on screen and on top of that it's a rather flat film to look at. Despite having an expansive voice cast that also includes Patrick Stewart as Poop, Sofi Vergara as the salsa dancer, Rachael Ray as a piece of spam mail, Sean Hayes as the Devil, Jeff Ross as an internet troll, and even Christina Aguilera as the dance instructor, Akiko Glitter, in the "Just Dance!" app. the film gains nothing from as much because it gives them nothing to do. They've piled on the big names as well as probably spending a fair amount of money on those names and these side emoji characters come to be little more than punch lines for their own jokes. Patrick Stewart only slightly tarnishes his name by making jokes about "not being too soft," while the rest of the cast has maybe two lines a piece with neither of them being memorable enough to justify their cost or trip to the recording session. Moral of the story being, don't do this. Don't put anyone through this who doesn't have to experience it because it deserves no attention as it has not an original beam in its construct or an original idea in its thought bubble. It is a cash grab if there ever was one, it promotes words being uncool for kids to use (which I'm obviously very against), and it features more product placement than Michael Bay could even dream of. Supporting something like “The Emoji Movie” only feeds the idea to those head honchos at Sony that the public want more things like “The Emoji Movie” and we don't. We really don't.