Director: Tony Leondis
Cast: T.J Miller, Anna Faris, James Corden, Maya Rudolph, Patrick Stewart
Plot: On his first day of work, a Meh emoji (Miller) displays the wrong emotion and puts a smart-phone’s way of life at risk.
The Emoji Movie is going to struggle to get past the fact that it is some people’s worst nightmare of a movie. If movies have been getting dumber over the course of time, surely this is the rock bottom of that train of thought, a story about the emojis inside out phones and the apparent community they share. On top of that, this movie actively promotes young people being glued to their phones, one scene glorifying kids walking, face down, staring at their phone screens. In a world where a lot of people are criticising the next generation for putting a stop to actual conversation, watching a young boy and girl at high school fall in love over sending each other emoji text messages will seem like a major backwards step. There is also the sense that this movie is one big marketing campaign for smartphones everywhere, entire segments seemingly designed just to show off how much you need the Just Dance app right now! Was it any surprise that this movie is being so gloriously panned by critics?
This does beg the question if The Emoji Movie is truly bad, or simply a movie that is popular to hate on? Like the Phantom Menace, pop culture has made it so engrained into the public’s heads that it should be hated that potentially we are missing out on a good movie. The Emoji Movie is a strange cross between being unfairly hated upon and being annoyingly as bad as it was made out to be. It feels like a blend between the LEGO Movie (taking a popular toy and bringing to life), and Inside Out (the enterprise and social life of things we take for granted), yet not quite as good as either of those successful movies. Both the LEGO Movie and Inside Out were creative affairs, the LEGO Movie especially taking the same limited idea the Emoji Movie has and applying a thoughtful twist on its premise. Inside Out was Pixar at its very best, clinging to stereotypes but in such a way that transcended each emotion into new and exciting territories. In fairness to the Emoji Movie, it does try to do both things. Outside of its marketing overdrive, it is a film about a Meh emoji being told to live life expressing one emotion, when really he wants to be multiple things. If this story is told a little too heavy-handed, compared to the joyous ride of a Pixar movie, it still tries to promote these strong morals. Besides, if we compared every animated movie to Pixar, we would be writing bad review after bad review. Few of the critics mention that there is actually quite a feminist character buried in this movie, a girl emoji desperately trying to escape the hierarchy of the smartphone, because the only emojis for women are either princesses or brides. There are some strong ideas in this movie that a few critics are blind to in their rush to pan a movie they see as an easy target. In many ways, the Emoji Movie is simply a standard animated comedy that uses the world of smartphones as yet another venue to craft a child-friendly summer hit. Much like the LEGO movie using the Batman franchise to benefit from an established audience, the use of apps like Spotify and Just Dance are less enthusiastic sales pitches and more creative uses of subjects kids are already familiar with. A lot of the accusations the Emoji Movie is faced with are similar to themes used by LEGO Movie, but that film was simply better at using them. When LEGO Movie landed a superb joke with Unikitty, The Emoji Movie harshly shoe-horned in Candy Crush… I agree that there are two levels of subtlety between each example, but the fact remains that it feels unbalanced to criticise one film to such a level yet not the other. Most of the flaws Emoji Movie are apparently guilty of are undeniably there, but they are definitely not the end of the world as they have been made out to be. The bigger problems I had with The Emoji Movie is a narrative we have seen one too many times before (the finale is animated kids movie 101), and certain jokes being too crass for my liking (Patrick Stewart as Poop only lands two jokes: one is Star Trek themed). The Emoji Movie is less awful and more annoyingly lacklustre.
But with a box office success that is clearly happening right now, maybe we should try and figure out what is good with The Emoji Movie. Truthfully, kids are lapping it up and while adults are grumbling about the stupidity of the script, perhaps we are wrong on this one. Whatever is in the Emoji movie is obviously working. While the broader parts of the story are in need of a few more drafts and a cleaner edit, it is all about the side jokes. Like the LEGO Movie, this film rushes forward and break-neck speed and just peppers us with gags. If we didn’t like Patrick Stewart’s pun about ‘number twos’, before we can even roll our eyes, a joke about an Australian shrimp emoji throwing ‘himself’ on the barby comes along. The hierarchy of emojis is clever amusing too with the favourite bar of the phone treated as a VIP lounge, while the forgotten emojis we never use are relegated to a dusty room in the corners of the building. There is a joke for everyone. There are moments where, despite popular opinion, the Emoji Movie is actually quite smart. A scene where the characters enter the forbidden ‘Piracy’ app is full of great characterisations of things we equate with piracy. A Trojan Horse is behind the bar. Spam is introducing herself to everyone at the door, acting like strangers are her best friend. Internet trolls are actual trolls shouting abuse from one side of the room. Moments like these fill a cinema room with laughter. But these are also the moments that the critics conveniently forget about, in order to write a review about how cinema as we know it is coming to an end. When the hate hype dies down, I am sure that the Emoji Movie will emerge as yet another decent children’s film.
Final Verdict: Neither amazing or disastrous, the Emoji Movie is pleasantly average, which, at the moment, feels like a ground-breaking compliment.