Review: The Emoji Movie

Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Director: Tony Leondis
Writer: Eric Siegel, Tony Leondis, Mike White
Starring: T. J. Miller, James Corden, Anna Faris, Maya Rudolph, Steven Wright, Jennifer Coolidge, Jake T. Austin, Christina Aguilera, Sofia Vergara, Patrick Stewart
Genre: Comedy
Rating: PG
No, you don’t GET an initial thought blurb. You haven’t earned it…


Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: About as much violence as one would find in a game of Space Invaders. Some scary robots and a few fires and explosions.
Language/Crude Humor: Two cut off/unfinished instances of the “s” word. Neither was even close to funny.
Sexual Content: Some romantic tension.
Drug/Alcohol Use: A “beer” emoji is seen.
Spiritual Content: None.
Other Negative Themes: The movie is awful.
Positive Content: Some talk about being yourself and not conforming to social pressures.


Me: Hey Siri, you there?
Siri: I’m here. Sorry, I was just tidying up.
Me: I don’t want to know. I need someone to talk to and you’re the only thing within earshot.
Siri: Who, me?
Me: Yes, you.
Siri: That’s what I figured.
Me: I just saw The Emoji Movie, and I need to talk about it.
Siri: That’s on my watchlist.
Me: I’d advise against it.
Siri: Why? Is it bad?
Me: I wish I could simply say it was bad. It’s arguably one of the worst animated films I’ve seen in recent years. To call it “desperate” would be an undeserved compliment. “Desperate” at least implies effort. But this film had practically no effort at all. In fact, it seems like a movie you could have made on your own, Siri.
Siri: I’ll pretend you didn’t say that. From what I could see by the trailers and advertisements, it seems to draw from some praiseworthy sources. First one that comes to mind is The LEGO Movie.
Me: I don’t know what’s more aggravating – that comparing this swill to The LEGO Movie is a profane insult to the latter, or that the comparison is actually legitimate to some degree.
Siri: I thought so because both movies heavily feature characters with funny yellow faces.
Me: It’s a bit deeper than that. I mean, stop me if you’ve heard this one before. An ostensibly ordinary everyman (voiced by TJ Miller) who only wishes to operate as a cog in a commercialized machine as he was designed to do is publicly ostracized for being a bit “off” to some degree. He is later introduced to a young, brazen daredevil lass (voiced by Anna Faris) with a punkish fashion sense and an equally punkish moniker later revealed to simply be emblematic of her thinly-veiled insecurities about her own identity. She also shows great aptitude at manipulating the building blocks of her environment, but demonstrates gross ineptitude at a key moment of awkward personal growth, which gives the everyman a chance to play the rescuer (a trend affectionately known as the “Trinity Syndrome”). The duo goes on an epic journey through a wide variety of colorful “sub-worlds” to find way to a heaven-like outside world where all possibilities are open to them. Their world is threatened by a massive human force from the outside, but the threat is averted by a display of genuine personal expression that returns the world to normal and brings about a new moment of understanding both for the inhabitants of the fictional setting as well as for the residents of the outside world.
Siri: I wonder if that was intentional.
Me: It most likely was. But it clearly didn’t work.
Siri: Why do you think that is?
Me: Well, one of the strokes of genius about The LEGO Movie was that the title was completely literal. It didn’t simply hijack the LEGO brand as a means of peddling out a generic story that could have operated under any other brand name and been just as hollow. Rather, it was legitimately about LEGO and all the brand has stood for all these decades. The reason why The Emoji Movie failed as hard as it did is due in large part to the fact emoji – the tiny graphical representations of human moods and attitudes that have come to replace standard alphanumeric means of communication in texting and online social media – have not been around nearly as long to establish themselves as nostalgic relics of creativity. They also do not have much in the way of direct interactive function. Most of us do not “play” with emoji in the same way we used to “play” with LEGOs. Emoji have about as much relevance to us as the letters of the alphabet do. Imagine if someone tried to make The ABC Movie.
Siri: Sounds rather juvenile.
Me: It is. Though to call The Emoji Movie “juvenile” is something of an insult to children. None of the “jokes” therein even made many of the kids in the theater I was in laugh. Even they have more dignity than to laugh at Sir Patrick Stewart voicing a clump of poop and making every fecal pun available to a PG-rated movie (and even some that are not).
Siri: Oh captain, my captain…
Me: I know. Tragic.
Siri: It seems to me a movie as heavily commercialized as this had little chance of being more than hackneyed generic tripe. It’s not as though ad execs are exactly well-versed in good storytelling.
Me: True enough. This is to be expected, but not tolerated. As I’ve said before, you can make a great movie out of just about anything. The LEGO Movie was just one among countless examples of that. Even with licensed brand icons and titles around every corner, one could have still managed a respectable work by using such brands in a more creative and un-ironic fashion. Instead, every feature of one after another social media product is simply displayed and commented on with a degree of cynicism that would simply draw silent ignorance from children and rolling eyes and passing sighs from adults. This movie is not as clever as it thinks.
Siri: There was a ride on a bird that looks like the Twitter logo. And there was that gag early on where text based emoticons like “ >:-( “ and “:D” are treated like senior citizens. That was kind of clever.
Me: Siri, can we please be serious here?
Siri: Sorry. But what can you think of as a better example of using brand icons and commercial ephemera in a creative manner?
Me: Did you ever see the French animated short film Logorama, produced by Autour de Minuit?
Siri: Wasn’t that nominated for Best Animated Short Film by the Academy in 2009?
Me: Not just that. It won.
Siri: Well-deserved. But it’s not the most family-friendly selection.
Me: True enough. Maybe the saving grace to The Emoji Movie is that it doesn’t COMPLETELY rip-off The LEGO Movie. The premise is original enough, I suppose. I mean, it is interesting to think of an animated digital icon preprogrammed for a specific purpose feeling unfulfilled with his lot in life and journeying beyond his digital boundaries to become something more than what his design allows for.
Siri: You mean like Wreck-It Ralph?
Me: …I hate it when you do that…
Siri: I mean, there was even a bit in the movie with the popular game Candy Crush that had more than a few parallels to Sugar Rush. What with the candy and the gamble on a key character’s life and…
Me: Okay, Siri, I get it. I guess William Ralph Inge’s famous quip rings more true now than ever before.
Siri: “Originality is just undetected plagiarism.”
Me: You got it, dude.
Siri: But didn’t you like Wreck-It Ralph?
Me: I loved Wreck-It Ralph. In fact, I still hold that it had a stronger plot than Frozen. But the defining feature of success about Wreck-It Ralph is it was produced by people who actually cared about what they were doing. What video game character cameos were featured never took up more space than needed and what space they had was used to winsome effect. In The Emoji Movie, brand cameos were taking up so much space (literally and figuratively) that one can be forgiven for forgetting a story was supposed to be going on. So much of the pacing and flow of the story was hampered by another misused brand appearance.
Me: We’ve gotta find the character who will lead us to our destiny! Let’s stop and make a catty comment about Facebook users! We’ve gotta escape a mob of robots who are hellbent on erasing us from existence! Let’s play “Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen” on the YouTube app because reasons! The closest the movie ever got to being something close to serene was during a sojourn through the Instagram app. But that was soon curtailed once we remember the scene is centered on the lead character’s parents (voiced by Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge) who are easily the worst characters in the film.
Siri: Well, I’m sorry you had to put yourself through that.
Me: Somebody had to.
Siri: You mentioned there was a human threat from outside the world of the emoji. Did those characters do anything in the way of deepening your connection the plot?
Me: Siri, I’ve heard more convincing dialogue from you. Shoot, I’ve heard more authentic human speech from actors playing in COMMERCIALS about you. Honestly, not even young teens today would talk so seriously about the little funny faces in their phones. They certainly would not be useful in winning a guy his dream girl for the dance. I’d call it “wishful thinking,” but then I’d have to wonder who’s doing the wishing here…
Siri: Well, from what I could assess from the online synopses, there’s perhaps another angle that could give a silver lining to this cloud.
Me: Siri, did you just make a pun?
Siri: I’m a comedic genius and you know it.
Me: …Okay, what’s your insight?
Siri: Well, with the emphasis on giving personification to emoji – which largely just function as extensions of ever-changing human moods – one could see a corresponding element to Pixar’s Inside Out with regard to-
Me: Siri, I’m gonna have to stop you right there.
Siri: But if you think about it, wouldn’t the crisis near the end of The Emoji Movie be not dissimilar to the tragic internal breakdown that Joy, Sadness, and the others experience when they-
Siri: But-
Siri: Okay…But what about the whole thing with Riley’s islands of personality crumbling into the memory dump? I know I’m not the only one to draw a comparison between the human mind and a computer hard dr- 
*slide to power off*

The Emoji Movie is preceded by the short film Puppy!, an ultimately witless and inconsequential skit taking place in the Hotel Transylvania world in which Adam Sandler’s Dracula buys his grandson a puppy, and…then he has a puppy.
…yeah.  That just about says it all, don’t it?






The Bottom Line


Tyrone Barnes

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