The Emoji Movie (2017)

“Who has the time to type out actual words?”

Not everything about The Emoji Movie is horrible. The colors are crisp. The voicework, while uninspired, has been cast well. It’s pretty short. But its greatest success is in boldly being exactly what smart audiences would expect going in: a story bordering on copyright infringement, a mannequin dressed in name-brand garb, and a shamelessly blatant attempt to swindle adults of their hard-earned cash because their rugrats simply don’t know any better. I’ve seen far worse films in my lifetime, yet too few compare to this story’s pick-pocketing thievery, and almost none have had a less encouraging message for children to swallow up whole and eventually choke on. The Emoji Movie tries to talk niceties but is nonetheless a bully by action, condemning intelligence by saying that words don’t matter and that modern-age hieroglyphics are capable of saying more with less. What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.

Gene (T.J. Miller) has a problem: living in Textopolis with the wide array of emojis, Gene’s supposed to be a “meh” face. Droll, slow, unexcitable and ho-hum. But he seems to have a short-circuit misfiring in his brain as he shape-shifts between all different kinds of expressions. This wrecks havoc on the social life of high school freshman Alex (Jake T. Austin) as he sends an embarrassing text to his crush and has a malfunctioning phone (in maybe the movie’s most discouraging scenes, Alex is made fun of for the lesser tech device in his pocket, not so quietly condemning poverty). Fearful of Alex’s frustrations and their ultimate demise, the emoji’s community leader Smiler (Maya Rudolph) sets her sights on deleting Gene altogether.

With its world design stealing from Zootopia and its characters more unrefined imitators of Inside Out, director Tony Leondis’ story achieves a trifecta by ripping off Wreck-It-Ralph’s third act reveal for good measure. Its lack of originality is particularly distasteful and sour, but the main reason The Emoji Movie deserves to occupy the diaper bin more than thousands of theaters nationwide is that it’s potentially harmful. Our world is a beautiful one so long as we take a brief second to glance up and reach out. To see Earth is to taste and smell and witness and hear all of the sweet variations played to the tune of life. You can look down at your phone all day and chow down information, but the real substance of humanity comes from being one within the real world. That The Emoji Movie willingly sells its soul to convince audiences otherwise exposes the film as disgraceful, detrimental, and rotten to its glossy two-bit core.

Should you – for whatever reason – want to dissect and disparage The Emoji Movie through its own dumbed down language, you can criticize it with a poop emoticon followed by a handclap, or maybe with a dead-eyed smiley face, and definitely with two Siskel and Ebert inspired thumbs down. It’s sad, really, how The Emoji Movie has such a visually scintillating color-scheme but still errs towards the cubicle culture of modern communication. In this demonym of a world where the nationals share the same name as the native tongue, we watch emojis emojiing beside other simple-minded emojis, the characters literally surviving thanks to brands like Spotify and Dropbox and Twitter. Written without any effort or ingenuity, directed like a distracting side-show, and performed by animals chasing a check hung in front of their faces to never be caught, The Emoji Movie impetuously defines a subset of an entire generation in many ways. Demonstratively self-apologetic, questionably kindhearted, freshly lobotomized. This is the kind of film where the messenger is undeserving of being axed but the message itself should be burned at the stake because it’s so upsetting, so demoralizing, so loathsome, and so crushingly “meh.”

“One day all of this will blow over and everyone will forget what you did.”

Rating: 0.5 out of 5

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