I tried. I really did. I went in with an open mind. “This could still be like The Lego Movie,” I told myself. “Just give it a chance.”
It turns out we were right all along.
The Emoji Movie, from Sony Pictures Animation, was written and directed by Anthony Leondis. Eric Siegel and Mike White joined as co-writers. To these men I ask, what compelled you to birth this? The Emoji Movie is a joyless movie, replacing world-building with ads and giving us characters flatter than their real-life emoji counterparts.
The movie opens at a schoolyard where human teenager, Alex (Jake T. Austin), receives a text from a girl he has a crush on. As he tries to formulate a reply, we zoom in to his phone to see the city of Textopolis. In this world, each emoji has to be their one “thing” their whole life. Crying emojis need to always be sad, laughing emojis need to always be happy, and so on. We’re then introduced to Gene, voiced by T.J. Miller, who’s supposed to be a “Meh” emoji. The problem is, he doesn’t seem able to control his expressions, and his first day on the job he messes up everything. The head of the texting department, Smiler (Maya Rudolph), holds a meeting where it’s decided Gene should be deleted. Gene then tries to escape, running into Hi-5 (James Corden). Together, they decide to find a famous hacker named Jailbreak (Anna Faris) who can take them to the Internet and reprogram Gene’s code to make him normal again. It’s a race against time though, because if it’s not fixed, then Alex will erase his phone.
I want to start with what I did like about the movie. The animators did their jobs well. When Textopolis is introduced, there’s a lot going on in the background. The movement looks good and smooth enough. The designs leave much to be desired though, since most of the background characters are just their respective emojis with little dot eyes and long arms and legs attached. For what they were given to work with, the animators did a good job at capturing movement. I also found a couple of good gags. The old-fashioned emoticons (like “:)”) were depicted as the elderly citizens of the world, which I found clever. Other than that… there was little else.
Now, for what you probably came here for. To start from the top: the setup of this entire movie is ridiculous! Apparently, when a human selects an emoji from their touchscreen, the order is sent down to a massive complex where there’s a huge finger-shaped scanner. All the emoji citizens line up in their little boxes. If they are chosen, the scanner then takes a snapshot of them. That picture is then sent up to appear in the text box. It’s such a round-about way to send emoji!
There’s also the world they live in. Gene has two parents, and it is revealed in the movie that he inherited his multi-facial malfunction from his father who had hidden it all these years. Does that mean emojis have children? It’s Gene’s first day on the job. Does that mean his father is retiring? Do emojis age and then die? Did Gene have to qualify for the job? There’s so little explanation here that it leaves me more confused than anything else.
And then there’s the world outside Textopolis. We peek into different apps where activity is going on. When Gene and his allies jump into them to do stuff though, the app suddenly opens on Alex’s phone causing disruptions. But why did the other apps humming with activity not cause any disruptions? Also, they say they have to go through different apps in order to reach their destination. It very clearly shows, though, that they can simply walk around them! Sure, you could say the anti-virus robots would get them… but the robots find them inside the apps anyways. Just save time and make a break for it!
Now, getting down into the “characters”. First of all, the dialogue in the movie is badly written and poorly delivered. No high schooler actually says to another, “Play it cool, just send her an emoji.” The poor delivery only trims any potential impact the decent lines have. As for the characters themselves, they’re all really bland. Gene says he wants to fit in, but he can’t due to his varied expressions. Later in the movie though, it shows that he can modify them just fine! Hi-5 is flat-out obnoxious: think Animal House-style frat bro.
And then there’s Jailbreak. T.J. Miller has stated before that he believes this movie sends “a feminist agenda, but not in a preachy way.” Well, he’s wrong on both counts. Of the few “feminist” things Jailbreak says, they’re so out-of-place that they come across as annoying. For example, when she was explaining the way to the cloud, Gene ends up finishing her sentence in excitement. She immediately reprimands him, saying “Men are always taking credit for women’s ideas!” Now that’s a pretty solid point, but he was just excited about what she was saying. He didn’t try to steal her idea at all.
Not to mention, after being built up to be a “strong female character”… she ends up falling in love with Gene. She abandons her dream to be free in the cloud so she can come back home and be his princess, complete with a princess costume. For a movie touted to have such feminist ideas, I don’t see very many here.
Which brings me to the romances. Yes, romances. Plural. Gene and Jailbreak are one, and it’s so forced and formulaic that I felt my eyes roll back in my head. Gene’s parents also have a short subplot where they get angry with each other over what they should have done about Gene. Eventually, they make up, and sit on a beautiful Parisian street in Instagram to make googly eyes at each other. Yes, it’s as grating and sickening as it sounds. The fact that they’re both “meh” emojis, and thus have to have zero tone in their voices at all times, doesn’t help them any capacity.
Then there’s the human, Alex, and his crush, who he manages to win over by the end of the movie. The big climax has him finally send her an emoji, which is Gene making many different faces. She then comes and talks to him, saying “I like you’re one of those guys who can really express his feelings.” If she thinks sending an emoji is opening up, then I feel like this relationship will not last.
The climax also left me utterly baffled. Essentially, Gene convinces Alex not to wipe out his phone by showing his multiple expressions. First of all, that didn’t work the last time he was scanned with multiple expressions. Second, sure he had a cool new emoji, but from Alex’s perspective, his phone was still randomly pulling up apps. Erase away! Third, Smiler tries to stop Gene by having him finally erased. Other emojis remark that she’s being unreasonable and excessive. Apparently, the script forgot that they were seen at the meeting where they decided to erase him in the first place! Fourth, all the emoji clap and cheer for Gene at the end. He’s hailed as a hero. Apparently, they all forgot that he was the one who nearly got them all killed in the first place, and then made the problem worse by going on his little adventure! If he had done literally nothing, the world would be going along much more peacefully.
Did I mention the crass product placement in this movie? Just Dance, YouTube, Spotify, Candy Crush, Facebook, they all make appearances. In fact, when the Twitter bird comes in to save the day, I just about rolled my eyes to the back of my head. It’s not like Wreck-It Ralph, where the licensed products were relegated to cameos and minor roles. These are things essential to the story and shoved in your face. Very unpleasant.
Finally, the jokes. I mentioned there were a couple good gags. Cherish them, because most of the humor revolves around “Hey, we have a character named Poop!” It’s not clever, it’s not funny, it’s just joyless.
That’s what you should take away here. The Emoji Movie was utterly joyless. The animators and in-betweeners did their job, but the designs just aren’t good and the script is utterly atrocious. The touted messages get totally lost and garbled. Only one thought echoed in my mind after seeing this: I could have used my eight dollars to go see Dunkirk again. Heck, I could have spent my time to pop Inside Out into the disc player! In fact, that’s what I’d recommend for you.
Emoji Movie has come and gone. Now let’s pretend this never happened.
David Gouldthorpe is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.