Director: Tony Leondis
Screenplay: Tony Leondis, Eric Siegel, Mike White
Starring: T. J. Miller, James Corden, Anna Faris, Maya Rudolph, Steven Wright, Jennifer Coolidge, Christina Aguilera, Sofía Vergara, Sean Hayes, Patrick Stewart
Runtime: 86 Minutes
It started as a bad joke. At a time in which any nostalgic or recognisable property is getting a cinematic treatment for monetary gain, The Emoji Movie felt like the parodic punch line to Hollywood’s money grabbing obsessions. Almost too lazy, short-sighted and nakedly pandering a concept to actually swindle audiences.
But it really happened... Try as you might to not believe that such an atrocity should exist, but The Emoji Movie is an actual motion picture written, directed, produced by and starring actual living people in the real world – and, unsurprisingly, it’s absolutely terrible.
Not only is the film a perpetual agony to sit through, and a blatant rip-off of every successful animated movie of the past decade (the winning pitch for the rights must have been “Inside Out but in a phone” without actually understanding why said film worked), but it’s unfathomably broken on a narrative level even as its own story.
The hook is that Gene (T.J. Miller), a “meh” emoji, can express multiple emotions instead of just the one and that makes him an outsider and a danger to the obscenely contrived and overcomplicated internal world of a young boy’s Smartphone. But here’s the problem; every single other emoji character in the movie shows different emotions at some point. Sure they might be constantly pulling their literal face of expression, but how on earth is can it make any sense when a smiley emoji can pronounce how angry they are, or pull a face of disappointment?
Besides this major plot breaking piece of information, the film trundles on with its exhausted premise of a magical world inside a Smartphone that doesn’t offer a single original idea on any level. Not thematic (“express yourself”?), not visually (everything looks borrowed or plain), not even in terms of dialogue or character archetypes (there isnt a single line or character action that can't be predicted before it happens).
In addition to the general laziness and half-arsed quality of the animation, storytelling and writing, the insidious nature of the film is what makes this so despicable as an entity. The only reason any movie studio – let alone the creatively bankrupt Sony Pictures – would pay for the rights to such a project is because they know that advertisers will pay through the nose to have their various apps and products featured somewhere in its landscape. But not satisfied with acting as mere distractions, entire detours are taken to the world of Candy Crush Saga as the film actually teaches the audience how to play the game for 5 whole minutes.
It features numerous other apps and programmes throughout, such as WeChat for the Chinese market and a Just Dance app that shouldn’t even be on a phone, but even the shared logic of how a Smartphone is supposed to work doesn’t match up to reality with things such as recycling bins, anti-virus software, and a pirating app, and the whole climax clings to the stiflingly dull and characterless human owner Alex (Jake T. Austin) wanting to delete his phone contents out of sheer embarrassment because he sent the wrong emoji and an app played out loud once. How this is supposed to fix anything is never elaborated upon, but leads everything to a denouement message so painfully obvious yet forced into being that it’s like reality tears itself to pieces trying to give the whole thing even a single point.
This is to say nothing of the lifeless performances being given by the cast, who are clearly on board to pick up the check and nothing else – and everyone involved should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Miller sounds bored, Anna Faris as a generic hair dyed action heroine is on autopilot, James Cordon continues to be morally and artistically insolvent in every way possible as the obnoxious sidekick Hi-5 and Sir Patrick Stewart turns up as the “poop” emoji to deliver a handful of lines about excrement. All of this to the thudding sounds of the "Emoji-Bop"; a game of peek-a-boo by a different name that the film desperately wishes was a ‘thing’ alongside Everything is Awesome – it isn’t.
The Emoji Movie will hopefully be swept away by the fog of memory, but it will stick out as one of the lowest points in 21st century Hollywood, where the clasped hands of producers and advertisers ran rampant with greed and a complete lack of ambition beyond immediate recognition, and the dollars of lazy parents who won’t know any better. The sound you hear as it closes isn’t an obnoxious two-year-old pop song, but that of the bottom of the barrel being vigorously scraped – or we can only hope it’s already been reached.