Mild spoilers ahead, if that matters for a movie like this.
Movie Pass is a double-edged sword; more often than not, you find yourself in spot where you’re forced to see a movie so that you can get your money’s worth. This past Sunday, I was faced with this exact predicament– I had a few hours to kill and a bright, red credit card in my wallet, calling my name. I already saw Atomic Blonde, so that was out of the question. Next, I thought, “Why not see Detroit?” With a runtime of two hours and twenty-three minutes, I decided against it. Wind River? Not showing at my local Queens theater.
Then I remembered The Emoji Movie.
With the constant press around this film, I knew that I was walking into the lion’s den. But, like a passerby on the freeway, the urge to see a 16-car pileup was too great, so I walked 15 minutes to Kaufman Studios, stood closely to the ticket machine so that no one could see my shame, and quietly walked into theater #1– alone.
The Emoji Movie is the latest venture from Tony Leondis, who also directed Igor and Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch. The plot centers around Gene, the “meh” emoji (voiced by TJ Miller). Most of the time, the residents of the fictional wonderland “Textopolis” stick to their one emotion so that when Alex, the teenager in possession of the smartphone where Textopolis is located, wants to use his favorite emojis, they do their job. Gene is different, however. He can become, seemingly, every emoji imaginable and that makes him an outcast.
During his first day on the job, waiting to be beamed into Alex’s phone, he breaks protocol by being more than just the “meh” emoji when he is summoned; this is brought on by his nerves and the need to impress his superior, Smiler (voiced by Maya Rudolph). This has drastic consequences, as most of the facility is damaged in the ensuing panic and Alex becomes wary of his phone, considering wiping all of the characters inside and starting fresh.
Smiler and the board of Textopolis agree that Gene must be dealt with, so a hit squad of anti-virus robots are deployed to take care of business. With the help of the Hi-5, a walking hand in the shape of a high-five (voiced by James Corden), Gene escapes the texting app and is free to roam Alex’s “background” as well as access other apps in the process. In their quest to rob Gene of his unique traits and make him fit the status quo, they meet Jailbreak (voiced by Anna Faris), another emoji that escaped from the texting app and now hacks in an attempt to escape Alex’s phone.
The group bonds through a number of uninspiring scenes featuring actual apps that you can purchase in real-life and finally reaches Dropbox, referred to as “the cloud” when they’ve hit their quota for Dropbox mentions based on the film’s contract. Their plan is flipped on its head and the team needs to act quickly before Alex deletes the contents of his phone, effectively killing everyone inside.
The issues with The Emoji Movie are plentiful and, normally, pretty egregious. This is merely an estimate, but there is probably a “joke” for every 15 seconds of screen-time and nearly ever single one falls flat. It was like being in a boxing match with the late, great Muhammad Ali where every joke was an uppercut, a jab, a body-blow; I went in with no expectations and left with a concussion and some missing teeth.
Instead of laughing, a number of children in my screening were complaining about being tired, crying, or sleeping.
And, honestly, I’m glad they were.
The amount of product placement in film this unforgivable. The run-time of this movie is a cool 86 minutes, ~20 minutes of which are spent in apps that, the creators of the apps themselves hope, kids will ask their parents to download or buy for them. When the midpoint of your script features a 10 minute scene where our main characters need to dance their way to safety in the Just Dance app, you’ve got major problems aside from just a terrible movie– you’re morally bankrupt.
So, on top of a flat script and product placement galore, the film’s central themes come off as uninspired and hollow. Jailbreak, the aforementioned emoji-gone-hacker, is a former princess emoji that simply wants to be herself and shed the stereotypes of what a girl should be and Gene isn’t allowed to be himself based on societal pressure. These are normally great messages for children, but something about a yellow ball forcing these important themes down my throat, while also attempting to convince me to download the Spotify app, doesn’t sit right with me.
The only enjoyment I got from this film was being able to witness one of the world’s most heralded actors, Sir Patrick Stewart, voicing the poop emoji– which, in itself, is a little depressing.
Avoid The Emoji Movie, I took the 🔫 for you.
Matt: Do not watch, ever