Let’s hope this isn’t the future of animated features.
Given that movies adapt and react to the world around them, it wasn’t a shock when Sony announced The Emoji Movie. My first thought: this will either be the best or the worst animated movie of all time. For the sake of optimism, the high-concept adventure had the potential to combine wholesome family entertainment and a satire on modern technology. The studio could be onto something, I hoped. Well, they weren’t.
About 90 percent of The Emoji Movie takes place inside the smart phone of a ninth grader named Alex, whose only personal conflicts involve girls and text messages. Meanwhile, a series of life or death misadventures occur over a single day in that device inside his pocket. “Textopolis” is the bustling home of emojis, whose primary goal is to maintain a single, designated emotion in order to be sent out as a text. For most of the population, this isn’t an issue. But Gene (voiced by T.J Miller) has trouble sticking to being “Meh,” his predetermined emotion.
Unable to conceal his wide range of feelings, Gene and his new friend Hi-5 (James Corden) set off to find a notorious hacker by the name of Jailbreak (Anna Faris) in hopes of finding a solution. Gene’s ability to change faces and interconnect emotions comes as a shock to the other emojis, and some of them make it their duty to destroy such individuality. When things go haywire inside Textopolis, things also go haywire for Alex (Jake T. Austin), who can’t seem to get his phone under control as he tries to virtually communicate with a girl he likes.
The initial set up for The Emoji Movie is promising and even a bit intriguing as it skillfully breaks down the life of an emoji in Textopolis. But after 30 minutes, I was taking several very long blinks. Multiple conflicts keep arising while we get little resolution to those that came before. There’s a top secret smart phone update, then a new super villain, then a sudden Armageddon of sorts. Gene and the rest have their hands full with so much activity that there’s no room for them to be fleshed out as characters. Outside of what they’re doing that very day, we learn nothing more about the emojis we’re supposed to root for, and so they feel like a forced assemblage of simple icons without personality. The dialogue is never thoughtful or humorous, especially in comparison to animated films with similar themes, such as Inside Out and Bee Movie. Clever address of stereotypes, forms of communication, and conformity is brought up, but each topic is grazed over.
One of the reasons why certain animated movies are so successful is because they’re able to convey human emotions and experiences in a manner that’s borderline magical. The characters are compelling, flawed, and lovable due to their transparency. Even if as a viewer I can’t relate to the fantastical events occurring on screen, the character’s reactions are usually enough to bring about empathy. This is not the case with The Emoji Movie. Alex, Jailbreak, Gene, and even the annoyance known as Hi-5 lack authentic characteristics. The simple cliche plot of an unconventional boy with an outlandish best friend meeting a quirky, badass girl and saving the day, which has been told and retold a hundred times, is just reapplied once again here with virtual beings.
The film’s visuals — colorful enough to keep the attention of those 10 and under — and its soundtrack are the only positives. The Emoji Movie is not the absolute worst creation to hit the big screen, but there are certainly better ways you could spend your Friday night, and bargaining with the kids against it might need to be an option. Animated movies are barely ever a disappointment for me. The innocence of the feature is obvious, the compassion and thoughtfulness placed behind characters and plots are detectable and admirable, even if the whole thing is rather simple. These filmmakers always seem to work in a loving, earnest way in their quest to make enjoyable movies for all ages. The Emoji Movie failed to prove it had a loving parent. And for the loving parents who are being dragged to theaters to see this film, I’d recommend a double shot of espresso beforehand.