I go into every movie I watch hoping it’s awesome. Why would I want to spend more than 90 minutes of my life watching something that’s bad when I can spend that time watching something that’s enjoyable and stimulating? Sure, many times I end up watching a movie that strikes me as mediocre, lackluster or even outright bad, but it’s always good to give every single movie you see a fair shake and hope for the best. That’s what I did for “The Emoji Movie,” a feature film that’s received plenty of derision leading up to its release, and while the trailers looked, well, awful to me, I still went in here hoping for the best.
I came out very tired and very aghast at what I just witnessed.
“The Emoji Movie” is a pretty bad movie and what’s really insulting about it is just how lazy it is. The assorted plot points, the humor, the attempts at pathos, it all just feels like they slapped together numerous plot points and assorted details from other recent far superior American animated family fare and called it a day. There’s not even an attempt to coat the derivative offerings with a morsel of a distinctive tone or identity, it’s all just so blatantly uninspired. Speaking of “blatantly uninspired,” let’s talk about our premise, which deals with an emoji named Gene (T.J. Miller), the son of two Meh emojis, who’s supposed to also be a Meh Emoji, meaning he’s got to be 100 percent Meh all the time. His problem is that he experiences a wider array of emotions, thereby making him a social outcast.
Gene and all the other emojis live inside the phone of human being Alex and help with his text conversations. Unfortunately, Gene’s first chance to participate in this process goes awry when he ends up making the wrong face and also trashing the place where all the emojis work. In order to fix himself, he procures the help of fellow outcast emojis High-Five (James Corden) and Jailbreak (Anna Farris) to help get him to The Cloud where he can get reprogrammed to be a normal Meh emoji. To do this, they’ll have to travel through various apps like CandyCrush, JustDance and DropBox (yes, DropBox is a location in this movie).
That’s a pretty straightforward “Learning To Be Yourself” narrative if I ever heard one and “The Emoji Movie” executes said story in such a robotic and lifeless manner, one whose various beats and rhythms are dictated not by character development or larger themes the movie wants to explore or even just opportunities for some fun humor, but rather as chances to promote various real-life apps. In the likes of “Wreck-It Ralph,” “The LEGO Movie,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” or “Toy Story,” already existing characters showed up in supporting roles but the main characters and locations, while being pastiches of well-known video/LEGO/classic cartoons/toy archetypes or locales, were still these original creations. That is very much not the case here. Everywhere our three leads go is just another extended ad for some app you can download onto your phone for free.
Entire sequences get set in apps like (in addition to the aforementioned trio of apps the lead characters go to) Spotify, YouTube and Instagram while a brief detour into Facebook just leads into the same old gags about that website that were out of date in 2011. Then the bird icon for Twitter plays a pivotal role in the climax (this is not a joke) and it all just feels so icky, especially since there’s no quality storytelling or good gags to be wrung out of trips to these locations. If “The LEGO Movie” wanted to talk about the power of imagination, if “Wreck-It Ralph” was about the forces that make up our identity and if “Toy Story” grew into a mythic tale of love and letting things you love go, “The Emoji Movie” is just here to constantly remind you (by way of it always showing up in establishing shots of the various apps on the phone) that Crackle exists. It’s all so blatantly just an extended commercial for big corporations and how awesome they are I half-expected Dex Dogtective to come peeking around the corner any minute.
Just as bad as its pervasive product placement is “The Emoji Movie’s” skin-crawling attempts at comedy, which includes a barrage of tried puns that aren’t even a groan. Anyone who knows me even slightly well knows I love me some puns, even the not so good ones, but the ones in “The Emoji Movie” are just forced and devoid of cleverness. Other sources of humor include forced pop culture references, tired observational humor related to certain apps and having characters speak in “hip” slang by using verbiage like “#Blessed” and “NBD.” That’s what was missing from high-quality animated movies of the past like “Spirited Away” and “Bambi” — characters saying “#Blessed.”
Worst of all though, the movie’s just aggravatingly confusing in what kind of morals it’s trying to present to the audience. The opening voice-over monologue begrudges the new generation for always being on their phones and having short attention spans (was this script written by old men yelling at clouds?) and then spends 90 minutes hawking ads you can buy on your phone. Even worse, it tries to establish a message of individuality by way of Gene learning to accept and be himself, but the character of Jailbreak ends up giving up on all of her dreams and ambitions just to make Gene happy. That’s such a creepy third act turn that completely undercuts any kind of moral about “being yourself” it’s trying to convey. On top of all that, another notable flaw in the writing comes in how the characters have a weird habit of just being jerks for no reason, like High-Five pushing away a wagon emoji who wants some help in The Cloud too. Random unwarranted cruelty from our protagonists mixed together with bizarrely confused morals and themes does not make a great movie.
“The Emoji Movie” really doesn’t work as a motion picture in the slightest as it’s flagrantly obvious this feature was far more concerned with shoving in as much hip slang and product placement as possible rather than telling a good story or even just delivering some funny diverting antics for 90 minutes. Instead, it’s just an incredibly confused movie, one that partially wants to be a screed about Millenials and their phones and social media and it also wants to be an extensive showcase to that same generation about how cool phones and social media are. The only real compliment I can afford this tranwreck is that, as far as theatrically released computer animated movies go, it’s at least marginally better than “Norm Of The North” and if the highest compliment I can pay your movie is “it’s at least marginally better than Norm Of The North,” something has gone seriously wrong.
Douglas Laman is a film critic,who, when not watching movies, attends Collin College, hangs out with friends and… watches movies. For more of his work and ramblings, visit his website at www.landofthenerds.blogspot.com