Synopsis – Gene, a multi-expressional emoji, sets out on a journey to become a normal emoji.
My Take – I think we all can agree that we live in a world where basic human communication has almost been replaced by texting & snaps. The standard of a phone is no longer measured by the voice quality but with the number of apps it offers. Well not that I am complaining, I am avid user myself! But somewhere inside it’s still hard to quite digest one item that has been developed to replace the words that are too difficult to write aka Emojis. And I think we all have seen or experienced how this emojis can make or break a conversation. But seriously who would have thought someone could up with a film based on digital expressions? Well I guess if Lego Movie could work, why not this right? Despite the negativity around this world, I desperately tried to keep an open mind & went in thinking that I had the same expectations from The Lego Movie, which sounded like a terrible idea, but ended up surprising with its clever plot & resonating ideas. Well, turns out everyone was right all along! Yes, everything about this film is as bad as you would think it is. The film doesn’t just fail to be entertaining, it gives us characters flatter than actual emojis, and replaces world-building with an 86-minute-long advertisement for several phone apps, not to forget reeks of the cynicism of Sony Animation‘s board of executives hyperventilating at the thought of money. What’s most baffling is that it shamelessly rip-offs widely successful films without even blinking an eye. Why Sony, why? The story follows Gene (voiced by T.J. Miller), the son of two ‘meh’ emojis (voiced by Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge), who lives in the city of Textopolis inside the phone of a teen named Alex (voiced by Jake T. Austin). In this world, each emoji has to stick to his/her one emotion for their whole life, for example, crying emojis need to always be sad, laughing emojis need to always be happy, etc. Being the son of two ‘mehs’, Gene is also expected to be the same, however unknown to everyone, Gene doesn’t seem to have ability to control his expressions, and on his first day on the job as a part of Alex’s texting app he messes up everything, hereby gaining the attention of the head of the texting department, Smiler (voiced by Maya Rudolph), who ends up deciding that Gene must be deleted.
Distraught by this decision, Gene decides to take the help of Hi-5 (voiced by James Corden) to escape into the wallpaper & find a famous hacker known as Jailbreak (voiced by Anna Faris) who can take Gene out of the phone, reprogram his code & bring him back. The adventure becomes a race against time as the trio go through apps such as Let’s Dance & Candy Crush causing havoc with Smiler’s delete drones behind them, leading Alex to believe that it’s time for him to gets his phone erased. Okay, where do I begin with this film. Yes, this is the worst animated feature of the year for mainly one reason is that animations can be seen as the most creative form of film, however the idea to have multiple facial expression as the protagonists is possibly the laziest from of creativity. Plus, it’s disappointing how much this film shamelessly rips off Wreck-it Ralph, Inside Out, and Lego Movie. The only difference between Inside Out and this film is that Inside Out had plausible situations: if Sadness affected Riley, she would display it as a reaction to change happening around her. In this film, if an emoji messes up, the phone literally jumps around and opens up unwanted apps. If it explained butt dialing, that would be one thing. Also, Wreck it Ralph had mostly familiar characters with an already attached story within the games they belonged to. Emojis have no story. Whenever something appeared in the film that was reminiscent of the two films, it didn’t seem like it was taking something before it and changing it, it always seemed like it was directly stealing from great films and watering it down into an uncharacteristic pulp. It also doesn’t help that the film’s message of being yourself, while a good moral, is one of the most used morals ever and it doesn’t even do anything particularly special about it either. Plus, this film also just doesn’t have any rules whatsoever. Hi5, while trapped in the trash, read an e-mail that was never sent, and thus Jail Break never had any access to because it was trashed immediately. As soon as he brings it up, however, Jail Break immediately finds it and can read it perfectly easily. Then, just a short scene later, one single Emoji downloads the source code to the cloud. Because yeah, it just that simple, right? And at the film’s climax, everyone dies, but then are brought back to life because Alex unplugged his phone from the ‘Phone Delete Machine,’ because yep, that’s how phones work. The characters are equally baffling as well: most characters have no arc whatsoever and just end the film exactly where they started, but the few that do have “character development” accomplish that within 5 minutes of their internal conflict being introduced. There is a scene in which Jail Break tells Gene that she’s always “looking out for number one,” he gives a ham-fisted line that was supposed to be profound, and she immediately decides that she agrees with him. Meanwhile, they are having this conversation immediately after they believe Hi5 has died, and are treating that fact as though it was a mild inconvenience. The worst part about of the film is how truly unengaging the characters are. First, there is the main character Gene, a meh emoji who has multiple emotions other than what he’s meant for. This causes him to become an outcast, and he goes on a journey to be accepted. His arc ends up as predictable as sounds, with him learning to accept himself, and because it’s so predictable the audience never actually cares about his struggle. Next, there’s Jailbreak, a hacker who helps Gene and Hi-5, who is so pointless to the plot there’s no need to introduce him, get to the app Dropbox, because product placement. Her “arc” is particularly frustrating because at the end of the advertisement she just accepts her stereotype and just stays as another princess emoji. Her character actually goes backwards in terms of character development!
Nearly all of the plot threads here are uninspired. The plot thread that leads into the main story has me questioning the skill of those behind the screenplay. If the boy is too shy to ask the girl out, how did he get her number in the first place? It’s not implied that they’ve been good friends in the past or even directly stated. My best guess is that this takes place in a universe where you don’t need to know someone’s phone number in order to send them an Emoji, so then how does texting work? Disregarding the fact that your universe already makes no sense, we are introduced to another universe that makes even less sense. In between page long exposition dumps, plot contrivance dumps and forced, cringe-worthy youth-oriented vocab dumps, the jokes seem to be spewing at 30% capacity and the plot seems barely alive. Sure, it has a good one or two clever gags in between like how the old-fashioned emoticons (like “:)”) were depicted as the elderly citizens of the world, but yet it’s hard to deny that this essentially a film of surface level dynamics and empty space. What little we have to grab onto in this godforsaken film is Meh’s ambiguously set up heroes’ journey. A journey that literally takes him, his friends and his family through Facebook, YouTube, Spotify and Dropbox because, you know, what’s a film like this without cat videos, malware updates, bad pop music and “thumbs up” stickers. There’s also a trek through Candy Crush which not only feels uninspired but does the unthinkable in taking a beat to actually explain the game lest someone in the audience still holds onto their rotary. It all reaches peak stupidity when Meh manages to travel to “the cloud” thanks largely to his ability to make faces and remember the name of the girl the phone’s user is obsessed with. However, the animators did their jobs well. Like many animated films, the characters move with fluid grace, transitioning through their adventure with little jumpiness. High Five in particular has impressive moves, as having a hand expand beyond simple hand movements can be tricky business. In addition, I enjoyed the visualization of the world within our phone, finding clever design in the development of the internal universes of each app (primarily Instagram’s frozen pictures). I’ll admit, the characters aren’t realistic like Pixar, or even super creative design, but still its nicely done. In terms of cast, choosing T.J. Miller as Gene isn’t a bad choice as he delivers some perhaps extended charm to the feature. With him there is a wide variety of different voices to hear firstly there’s, Maya Rudolph, Anna Faris, James Corden, Steven Wright, Ilana Glazer, Jake T Austin, Jennifer Coolidge, Sofia Vergara and finally there’s Patrick Stewart as Poop- though these are clever casting choices they are given nothing funny to say, in fact most of the things they do say is piled on by bad puns. What makes this film so bad is not just because it’s a film about emojis, it’s because this film does everything so lazily and doesn’t care at all. It’s unoriginal in every aspect and has nothing notable about it. On the whole, ‘The Emoji Movie’ is a disappointingly unoriginal film which comes with lazy themes & tropes & barely any redeeming qualities. To think that this film is responsible for the cancellation of animated film based on a well-known character, Popeye, makes me way more resentful. Time to get your priorities straight, Sony!
Directed – Tony Leondis
Rated – PG
Run Time – 86 minutes