The Emoji Movie (2017) Review
HAVEN’T I SEEN THIS MOVIE BEFORE?
The animated powerhouse studios of Disney, Pixar, and Illumination Entertainment have dominated the box office the past few years with big-time hits like Finding Dory, Zootopia, Moana, Sing, Secret Life of Pets, and Despicable Me 3. All these movies were well-received from critics and moviegoers as well as reaching box office success with all cultivating big dollar profits, including Zootopia, which crossed over the billion-dollar mark. And those are just films that were released within the last two years. Underneath these studio juggernauts is Sony Pictures Animation, a sub-animation studio company under the Sony Pictures Banner, which has created several cartoon films like Hotel Transylvania (and its 2015 sequel), Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Arthur Christmas, and (recently) Smurfs: The Lost Village. These movies have faced mixed reviews from viewers and critics (i.e. not really bad, but not really good either) and have only received minor return on investments at the box office. Now, with their second animated feature of 2017 (the first being Smurfs: The Lost Village), Sony Pictures Animation and director Tony Leondis present the cartoon film The Emoji Movie. Does this movie “express” itself within its animated world or is it just shallow, quick “cash and grab” on today’s society smartphone usage?
Gene (T.J. Miller) is a “Meh” Emoji who lives in the bustling city of Textopolis, which is located inside a smartphone owned by the teenager Alex (Jake T. Austin), who’s working up the nerve to send the perfect Emoji symbol to a girl that he has a crush on. Welcomed into the fold by Smiler (Maya Rudolph), the first Emoji, into the texting grid, Gene is ready and eager to prove his worth, hoping to impress his parents Mel (Steven Wright) and Mary (Jennifer Coolidge) Meh. However, when the times comes for Gene to shine, he flips out, ruining his big moment, and derailing the Emoji way of thinking. Looking for help and facing deletion from Smiler’s Anti-Virus bots, Gene, along with Hi-5 (James Corden), another reject Emoji who’s desperate to be in the spotlight once again, ventures beyond the Textopolis borders and begin to cross into the various smartphone apps world in search the individual named Jailbreak (Anna Faris), a hacker who as the skill to help Gene rewrite his code in order to be the perfect “meh” Emoji. While the trio jumps from app to app and with Smiler on the hunt for them, the pressure is on when word arrives that Alex has scheduled a phone repair, with every denizen within his phone now at risk of being permanently deleted for Gene’s performance issue.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I’ve stated (many times before), I’ve always been a huge fan of animated movies. Naturally, I’ve liked a lot of the recent cartoon endeavors from the big animation studios (i.e. the films that I listed above), but there have been a few here and there that I didn’t like as much such as Ice Age: Collision Course and The Boss Baby). As I said in the paragraph above, the Sony Pictures Animation movies have been somewhat “hit or miss”, with most being mediocre hits and raking in a mediocre box office results. Personally, my favorite ones of this studio are the Hotel Transylvania films (love all the voice acting cast in those cartoons). Unfortunately, this animation studio has yet to produce a sizeable and successful movie, with 2011’s The Smurfs (a live-action / CGI hybrid film) being their highest grossing film (roughly $560 million against its $110 million production budget).
As for this movie (i.e. The Emoji Movie) I really didn’t hear any internet buzz or talk about it until I saw the first trailer for the film via online. Like many out there, I really didn’t think this movie was going to great, finding the film’s premise to be cynical and cheap way for the Sony Pictures Animation to “cash in” on today’s popular culture usage of smartphones, especially with tweens and teenagers. However, I was vaguely intrigued to see this movie mainly due to the fact of the many capable and proven comedic voice actors that were attached to this movie. So, despite having a serious lingering doubt, I took a chance and went to go see The Emoji Movie. What did I think of it? Well, it was exactly what I was expecting it to be, but a tad worse as The Emoji Movie squanders some great voice acting talents within an uninspiring and uninterested animated endeavor. The movie is stylish and colorful, but also feels derivate, cynical, and load with product placements.
The Emoji Movie is directed by Tony Leondis, whose previous works include directing such animated features like Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch has a Glitch and Igor as well as writing the story for Kronk’s New Groove. Thus, suffice to say, that Leondis has a history background for animated movies (albeit not super popular ones), but enough to understand the inner workings of how to direct and craft such cartoon film. Unfortunately, that’s not so much the case with this movie, but I’ll get to that below in the next paragraph. Probably one of the best positives of the movie is within the film’s visual appeal. While it really doesn’t really break any new ground in animation style or design, The Emoji Movie’s visuals are pleasing to the eye with rich and vibrant colors and interesting characters designs for all the various app inhabitants within Alex’s phone. Additionally, the movie’s uses several popular songs, which does help the movie now and again (especially in a creative scene when Gene and Jailbreak “ride” the radio waves of the music app Spotify) as does the film’s score, which is composed by Patrick Doyle.
Unfortunately, that’s where all the positives for the feature end, finding The Emoji Movie riddled with several key negatives elements that it becomes grating to watch. Where to begin? Let’s start with the film’s story / narrative plot: a secret world of imaginary characters where a main protagonist discovers he’s different from the rest. If it that sounds familiar, then you know what I’m talking about as The Emoji Movie borrows heavily from other (and better) animated films. Right from the get-go, the film establishes itself as a “secret world” within their user’s (Alex) phone, with Textopolis being primary setting within this digital realm. This, of course, is clearly riffing on the initial setup of Disney’s 2012’s animated movie Wreck-it-Ralph, which utilized the varying video game arcade consoles as individual (and creative) worlds unto themselves for the film’s characters to explore. The Emoji Movie does the exact same thing, setting up each one of the phone apps as a different world to explore, but the movie just feels clunky when it does that as well as feeling like it took its idea from Wreck-it-Ralph.
Next, The Emoji Movie tries to mimic a similar approach to what Pixar’s 2015 Inside Out did within its world building, interweaving Gene’s journey within the smartphone-world with a storyline about the phone’s user (Alex) within the real-world. Sound familiar to Inside Out? However, this tactical approach doesn’t even come close to what Inside Out was able to achieve in both narrative execution and in resonating emotional heart. Gene’s adventures in Alex’s phone is generic and cliché in following a standard series of events (triumphs, pitfalls, and revelations), while phone user Alex’s journey, in comparison to Inside Out’s Riley, is woefully underdeveloped and lacks any meaning or drama.
Lastly, the third film that The Emoji Movie copies is 2014’s The LEGO Movie; a movie which had a thematically good commentary message about not being accepted in a role that majority of society has deemed appropriate for you as an individual. However, while The LEGO Movie was able to explore than theme, The Emoji Movie never does, with many of its characters never really evolving beyond their initial setup premise (their Emoji personalities). Additionally, Leondis, who also surprisingly co-wrote the film’s screenplay along with Eric Siegel and Mike White, sets up the film to have a social commentary message about today’s youth being completely and totally absorbed with using their smartphones. Unfortunately, Leondis doesn’t go anywhere with that commentary message thread as he merely states it, but doesn’t follow through with it, which could’ve been a very poignant thematic statement to say in this digital age of millennials.
Following that massive negative criticism, the film’s humor is also pretty (yes, I’m about to make a pun joke) “meh”. The various jokes and gags that are presented in the movie are not really fresh or creative, but rather just riffing on their one-note stereotypical personalities (i.e. the Poop Emoji always makes poop puns, the Smiler Emoji is always smiling and cheerful, the Internet Troll is mean and nasty etc.). In general, the film’s humorous is slightly dated, which ultimately means that most of the written comedy dialogue is unfunny. I did chuckle a few times, but that was few and far between. Next, the film can be (or rather is) obnoxious in its product placement of popular Smartphone applications like Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, Just Dance, and even Candy Crush. Heck, the movie is called “The Emoji Movie”, so, of course, I expected the movie to do this, but it just becomes grating as the movie moves forward.
It doesn’t help the fact that The Emoji Movie voice acting cast are a talented bunch of actors / actresses that lend their vocals to such a soulless and unoriginal animated feature. It goes without saying that they all are solid in their voice acting talents, which does elevate the movie slightly in their respective “cookie cutter” character archetypes, but it’s still just a waste of their talents. The three main characters of Gene, Jailbreak, and Hi-5 are voiced by T.J Miller, known for his Silicon Valley, Office Christmas Party, and Deadpool, Anna Faris, known for her roles in Mom, Scary Movie, and The House Bunny, and James Corden, known for his hosting (currently) The Late, Late Show as well as starring in The Three Musketeers and Into the Woods. All three do great work, especially because all three have proven themselves to be charismatic in their past work (both in live-action filming and / or animation). However, their actual characters are so stereotypical and generically “cookie-cutter-ish” that it dilutes the vocal talents who voices them. Thus, despite Miller, Faris, and Corden’s best efforts to bring the laughs and their dynamic voice personalities, their characters, which are the three main characters of the film, are bland and conventional constructs for an animated feature, with little reason to carry for them beyond their initial setup plights / woes.
The supporting players in The Emoji Movie are numerous, but, much like the trio of main characters, there isn’t much time spent on them for us (the viewers) to even carry about them, which makes most (if not all) one-dimensional side characters. The main side characters like Steven Wright (Son of the Mask and Coffee and Cigarettes) and Jennifer Coolidge (Legally Blonde and the American Pie movies) as Gene’s “Meh” Emoji parents (Mel and Mary Meh) sort of get their own subplot in the movie, but their running gag, which involves the pair only able to expressive themselves in the uninterested / unemotional “meh” monotone attitude style of voice, slowly runs out of steam as the movie progresses, while Maya Rudolph (Sisters and Bridesmaid) as the ever-so relentlessly (and cheery) Smiler, which acts as the film’s villain isn’t really given much depth or a personality for us to even care about or even make a good cartoon antagonist, despite Rudolph’s best efforts to make Smiler somewhat maniac “unhinged” energy. Additionally, seasoned actor Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation and the X-Men movies) does have some humorous poop-related puns as the Poop Emoji, but he’s not that much in the movie to make a lasting on impression on both on the movie and on us (the viewers).
Rounding out the side characters are characters that really minor and only make cameo-like appearances in the movie. This includes musician Christina Aguilera as Akiko Glitter (a dancer that lives inside the Just Dance app), Sofía Vergara (Modern Family and Hot Pursuit) as Flamenca (the Flamenco Dancer Emoji), cooking sensation Rachel Ray as Spam, Sean Hayes (Will & Grace and The Bucket List) as the Devil Emoji (aka Steven), and Jake T. Austin (Wizards of Waverly Place and Rio 2) as the human smartphone user Alex. Again, these voice talents are solid, but their characters really don’t stand out to make a lasting impression.
Lastly, the animated short Puppy!, which is a Hotel Transylvania short that’s directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, precedes The Emoji Movie. The short, which sees several Hotel Transylvania voice actors reprising their characters, including Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, and Selena Gomez, is quite funny and (to be honest) much better than The Emoji Movie.
Gene, along with Jailbreak and HI-5, journey across Alex’s phone to find some answers (discovering more about themselves) in the film The Emoji Movie. Director Tony Leondis newest film tries to bring the modern age of smartphone usage into a full-length animated feature film, with colorful and imaginary characters and iconic cellular applications worlds. Unfortunately, looking beyond the film’s solid animation and the talented voice actors, which are completely wasted on this project, the movie is completely derivate to other previous animated films (the better ones) and a quick “cash and grab” for the studio heads at Sony Pictures Animation, with a plethora of obnoxious product placement as well as lacking any heart, humor, or originality within this animated endeavor. To me, the film was bad, but I wasn’t really expecting much out of this movie to begin with. Thus (and it comes as no surprise) that I give The Emoji Movie is definite and unequivocally “skip it” for my viewing recommendation. Of course, the younger “juice box” crowd will probably like it, but there’s little to no crossover appeal for tweens, teens, and adult viewers. Basically, instead of seeing The Emoji Movie, just watch The LEGO Movie, or Wreck-It-Ralph, or Inside Out…. you’ll enjoy those movies much better than this hollow feature. Oh…and to the studio execs at Sony Pictures Animation….I say this “Shame on you for greenlighting such an animated project like this. We deserve better than The Emoji Movie!”.
2.0 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: July 28th, 2017
Reviewed On: August 2nd, 2017
The Emoji Movie is 86 minutes long and is rated PG for rude humor