The Emoji Movie, 2017.
Directed by Tony Leondis.
Featuring the voice talents of T.J. Miller, James Corden, Anna Faris, Maya Rudolph, Steven Wright, Sofia Vergara, Patrick Stewart, Jennifer Coolidge, Christina Aguilera, Sean Hayes, Tati Gabrielle, and Sean Giambrone.
A multi-expressional Meh emoji sets out on a quest to become a normal Meh emoji.
To best understand how creatively vacuous this on-screen adaptation of those yellow expressive icons you add to your text-speech to help contextualise your writing, we must look at the short animated short that comes before it entitled Puppy!.
It’s clear that Sony Pictures Animation are following Disney’s formula (FYI – yes, The Emoji Movie is eerily reminiscent of much better films like Wreck-it-Ralph and Inside Out, but you already know that!) by introducing an animated short before the main feature. However, much like the creative output of the preceding film, Puppy! is bereft of originality.
Set in the Hotel Transylvania universe Puppy! sees Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) purchase a giant, monstrous puppy for his son. The puppy (of course) causes havoc and calamity ensues. Puppy! ends on a punchline that looks to be written by a marketing committee than a genuine, struggling screenwriter with an artistic vision. So calculated is this featurette that Sony didn’t bother in creating an original short, and instead borrowed the universe from an established, and the studio’s most profitable, franchise.
This commercial disguised as a short story rightly sets the mood for watching The Emoji Movie, as you take in comfort in knowing that you’re just a number, and Sony won’t hide that from you.
The Emoji Movie‘s protagonist Gene (voiced by T.J. Miller) is a Meh emoji, only to discover that he’s a multi-expressional emoji. This causes disruption in the carefully constructed, society of Textopolis, a city that lives in everyone’s phone (for Gene and his fellow emoji’s, they live in Travis’ (voiced by Sean Giambrone) phone). Gene needs to be reprogrammed to become just a Meh emoji, or he will be erased by Smiler (voiced by Maya Rudolph) the smiley emoji. Another emoji, a high-giving emoji called Hi-5 (voiced by James Corden) tells Gene that he can introduce him to a hacker named Jailbreak (voiced by Anna Faris). Thus begins their voyage through the App Store.
This plotline of two outsiders discovering themselves, and trying to conform, is inoffensive enough. It’s when the film crams more plot lines into the story that it loses itself. For example, the human character Travis is a freshman in high school, who is trying to speak to his classmate Addie (voiced by Tati Gabrielle) but he cannot find the right emoji to express himself (First World Problems, right?). As quoted by the movie, emoji’s are comparable to the hieroglyphics (um…) and are the most important form of communication in human history (um… no…?), thus the film posits Travis’ emotional woes on his ability to wisely choose the best emoji. It’s corporate self-importance like this that makes this film highly offensive, and frankly dangerous.
After meeting Jailbreak at a bar, Jailbreak agrees to help them if they assist her to Dropbox so she can escape the phone and into the Cloud. The idea that product is the answer to all of one’s problems permeates the film. Meh’s parents are experiencing marital problems (yep, this comes out of nowhere, isn’t played for laughs, and is all-too-quickly resolved) are resolved when they enter the Instagram app. Jailbreak cannot find her self-esteem but the Just Dance app allows her to free herself. Gene and Jailbreak share a beautiful moment together, opening up themselves to each other, whilst riding the sound waves within the Spotify app. It goes on like this as it’s all-too-apparent this film uses apps as tentpoles to string the narrative together. That Candy Crush scene that’s being used in the trailers turns out to be the least insulting part of the film.
The moral message of the film, which is hardly a spoiler (spoil The Emoji Movie? Ha!), is that you can whatever you want to be: don’t conform, go against the mould, and be yourself! This would be a fine moral message if the film had followed through on it – the Flamenca emoji (voiced by Sofía Vergara) must remain a Mexican stereotype, Susan must conform to gender norms, and the Devil emoji (voiced by Sean Hayes) must remain as the devil!
In short, corporate apps save the day, Sony Pictures Animation only want your money and don’t care if you know about it, and Black Mirror warned us all! Move along if you love your children.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★