Director: Tony Leondis
Starring: T.J. Miller, James Corden, Anna Faris, Maya Rudolph
The world we live in is a complicated one. It’s full of paradoxes. It’s one where it’s true that today’s younger generations are becoming increasingly reliant on their smart phones as a substitute for direct communication. However, the older generations’ criticisms of youth and modern technology is so trite, overdone, and hackneyed that any time someone over the age of 50 complains about it, it’s just as worthy of an eye-roll as any kid glued to their phone.
We live in a world with hollow, soulless entertainment full of thinly-veiled cynicism and product placement. But we also live in a world where The Lego Movie exists. It’s a film that, despite centering entirely around a large brand name, managed to be a subversive, clever movie that endorses imagination, creativity, and individualism over capitalism and consumerism.
So who’s to say that The Emoji Movie couldn’t do the same?
Directed by Tony Leondis, it follows the multi-expressional emoji Gene (T.J. Miller) as he sets forth on a journey to become the “meh” emoji that he was born to be.
Every other word in that synopsis probably made you cringe. But because The Lego Movie exists, I’m willing to give just about any movie like this a chance.
And to absolutely no one’s surprise, The Emoji Movie is simply another one of those paradoxes. It’s a movie that seemingly begins with the intentions to be another groan-worthy commentary on youth’s smart phone addiction, but proceeds to tell a story all about the emojis that, at first, they tried to critique.
An opening monologue sarcastically refers to emojis as “the superior form of communication” that kids are replacing “face-to-face conversations with” on a daily basis. But doesn’t making an entire movie all about emojis defeat the purpose of that kind of social commentary?
I’m not going to deny that an entire movie based around emojis is about as lazy, uninspired, and ridiculous as it can get nowadays. And I’m also not going to deny that the text messaging feature can be abused and dumb communication down. However, this is something that older generations just need to accept. Technology progresses. Communication changes. We don’t write letters anymore; we send texts. We email, we instant message, and we Skype. Just because communication changes with technology doesn’t mean the world is coming to an end. This isn’t 1955 anymore. It’s time to stop the incessant whining and move forward.
Tangent over. My point is, not a single aspect of this film’s script is nuanced or clever in any way, shape, or form. After it’s done beating you over the head with its banal social criticisms, it abandons all of that, as if it hadn’t existed in the previous five minutes of the movie.
Normally, I’d count my blessings. But instead, the movie jumps right into the most generic story archetype for a children’s movie imaginable.
We meet Gene. He’s just your everyday, energetic, happy-go-lucky emoji. All he wants to do is follow in his father’s footsteps and take his place at the Text Center in the hopes of being sent through a message one day. However, unlike every other emoji, Gene has more than one expression, and that causes him to be exiled from the city of Textopolis. Through a series of adventures through dull, lazy interpretations of popular smart phone apps, Gene will eventually learn that it’s okay to be unique.
Oh yeah, and there’s a dance sequence at the end.
On a strictly story-based level, this movie fails on all fronts. The plot is tired and recycled, the social commentary is blatant and inconsistent, and the very fact that this movie is 90 minutes of nothing but talking emojis is contradictory.
There isn’t even a trace of sarcasm or parody in the execution past the insulting opening monologue. The script genuinely tries to craft emotional moments around these characters. It tries to give its story a sense of importance. It tries to get you to care. And wouldn’t you know it? Absolutely none of it works. All of the scenes between Gene and his love interest, a goth hacker emoji voiced by Anna Faris named Jailbreak (yes, you read that right), is amazingly stupid. How in the hell are we expected to emotionally invest in a romance between two emojis?
Towards the end, when the stakes are at their “highest” and the climax is at its peak, Gene has a flashback, shot with a feathery, white vignette montaging through all of the good times he and Jailbreak had, and it’ll surely go down as one of the most awkward scenes of the year.
However, “awkward” is a unintentionally-recurring theme in The Emoji Movie. The humor, when not pandering, is so unfunny that it’s hard to tell whether or not the line a character just said was a joke or not. The direction is so unfocused that there are several inexplicable pauses between lines of dialogue, and most of them don’t even come after a joke, which at the very least, would have made sense, as if the film was giving its audience a chance to laugh.
The animation is so poor that the lip-syncing hardly matches up with the dialogue given by the actors, and it’s mixed so terribly that it always sounds like actors talking straight into a studio microphone, and not like the characters are actually existing in this world.
Does this movie have anything going for it? Anything at all? Sort of. Maya Rudolph as Smiler, the leader of the Text Center, does a good job in her role, and casting Steven Wright as the father “meh” emoji was a solid casting choice.
At its best, this movie is a below-average bore. At its worst, it’s a confused, cringe-inducing chore of a viewing experience. And it constantly rides that substandard spectrum of quality on a scene-to-scene basis.
We live in a world full of paradoxes. It’s a world where social commentary from older generations on how today’s youth are addicted to smart phones is as embarrassing as any emoji-laden text message. It’s a world where we shouldn’t be surprised that we got an emoji movie, and we also shouldn’t need to be told that it’s as terrible as it is. But we also live in a world where I just sat down and wrote over 1,000 words on how god awful The Emoji Movie truly is.
See what I mean? Paradoxes.
The Verdict: The Emoji Movie shouldn’t be seen by anyone, of any age, under any circumstance. It’ll further encourage bitter, old writers to slam younger kids even more for their overuse of their smart phones, and it’ll pursuade impressionable children to use their emojis to an even greater extent. It’s a messy, lazy, poorly-animated excuse for a film, and it makes for one of the most agonizing and frustrating viewing experiences of the entire year thus far.