Gene, a multi-expressional emoji, sets out on a journey to become a normal emoji.
“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” warns Helen O’ Hara in her review of The Emoji Movie for Empire Magazine. “The first family film during which I’ve cried in pure dismay”, says Robbie Collin for The Guardian. The negativity doesn’t end there; a quick google search or glance at the reviews which make up its 7% Rotten Tomatoes rating is more than enough proof that The Emoji Movie is completely hated by critics. Here’s the shocker: it’s no where near as bad as you may have heard, but that’s hardly praise – it’s still a completely avoidable and wholly unnecessary cash-in on the younger generation’s reliance on technology and social media.
Much like Pixar’s Inside Out (and there’s a lot more similarities, which I’ll get to later), The Emoji Movie is set in a world within a world – in this case, the city of Textopolis, located inside young teenager Alex’s (voiced by Jake T. Austin) phone. The emoji’s, those small symbols expressing various emotions, have one job: stand in a tiny square all day with the hope of Alex picking them to use in his messages. If he does, they must stand completely still and recreate their defining expression, which is then replicated in his texts.
Gene (T.J. Miller) is a “meh” emoji who is able to express other emotions, much to the dismay of the ‘original’ emoji, Smiler (Maya Rudolph). On his first day at work as an emoji, Gene freaks out when picked, sending an unknown emotion up through Alex’s phone. Smiler, who is a stickler for perfection, deems him to a malfunction and sets out to delete him from existence. Now on the run, he teams up with Hi-5 (James Corden), a rejected emoji who wants to get back into the ‘cube of choice’ to travel to The Cloud so he can be programmed to function correctly. Along they way, they team up with Jailbreak, another rejected emoji who bears an uncanny resemblance to The Lego Movie‘s Wyldstyle, who has her own reasons for reaching The Cloud.
Right from the off, it’s clear The Emoji movie is completely devoid of originality. The first glaringly obvious plagiarism is the city of Textopolis; it is essentially Monstropolis from Monster’s Inc. But The Emoji Movie doesn’t so much lean on 2015s excellent Inside Out for inspiration, it uses it as a life support machine. The idea of not conforming to expectations is not a new concept to children’s movies, but it has to at least attempt to tell the story in a fresh and interesting way. The aforementioned Inside Out, Monster’s Inc and Lego Movie succeed at this, whereas Emoji Movie‘s screenwriters Tony Leondis (who also directed) and Eric Siegel have taken the ‘meh’ sentiments of lead character Gene and delivered a lazy, unintelligent story which has no real memorable scenes or standout comedic moments.
The biggest offence though is the blatant product placement – Facebook, Instagram, Spotify and Youtube are featured heavily, and their namedrops and logo appearances were the only thing that elicited any response from the young children also in attendance. In that respect, Sony knew exactly what to do to pander to their younger audience, but there’s absolutely no longevity to this movie – when the characters venture into the YouTube app, real clips are used, including an extended look at last year’s viral phenomenon ‘Pen Pineapple Apple Pen’, a video which is totally irrelevant to 2017. Of course, there’s a song and dance number thrown in for good measure, but even that can’t escape the clutches of corporate branding: the outdated Just Dance brand features heavily as a plot device.
The Emoji Movie suffers from having no specific target audience too: sure, the colourful characters will momentarily grab the attention of the youngest of viewers, but when talks of hacking, cloud computing and anti-virus bots come into play, toddlers are well and truly at a loss as to what’s going on.
Have the critics been too harsh on The Emoji Movie? I’d personally say yes. I’m not exactly full of praise for it, and neither would I recommend it when there’s offerings such as Captain Underpants, Despicable Me 3 and Cars 3 still showing, but I didn’t feel any great hate for it like many others have.
When asked what I thought of it a few minutes after leaving the screening, my instant reaction was probably the most fitting:
Patrick Stewart's 30 seconds of voice acting
Unoriginal, lazy story
Shamelessly plagiarizes other, more successful animated features
Product placement galore
Unfocused target audience