Want proof that Hollywood is bereft of original ideas? Well, you could always look over the releases from the last few months and conclude that (a) if it’s not a sequel or part of a franchise series, or (b) it’s not a reboot or reimagining of a beloved title, Tinsel Town has no interest in it. From a crappy King Arthur to more mechanized mayhem from Michael Bay’s favorite toy line, we are seeing a glut of shoulder shrug cinema that audiences everywhere (yes, even around the world) don’t seem to care about.
And then there is The Emoji Movie. When Sony announced this ripped from the iPhone title, it was clear that they didn’t care about the outcome. They had a few familiar elements at their disposal and they wanted to exploit them as much as possible. First, kid’s movies rarely fail. Parents want electronic babysitters and will plunk down good money to get Junior and Janey out of their hair for 90 minutes. Next, there must be something marketable, and what grade schooler doesn’t want to see their favorite text “friends” come to life. Finally, there’s merchandising, and with these quasi-cute creatures, you can hear the toy store registers ringing in earnest.
But the film itself is a travesty, a witless wonder that offers none of the joys of, say, the brilliant LEGO Movie. Heck, it’s barely The Angry Birds Movie. The story centers on an emoji named Gene (T.J. Miller) who is supposed to represent ennui, or as we say it in 2017, “meh.” His job requires he limit his emotion, but he’s a rebel and he wants to be himself (cue standard kid vid narrative arc). When he angers Smiley (Maya Rudolph) for breaking protocol, she wants him deleted. Gene then teams up with Hi-5 (James Corden), their goal is to find a hacker named Jailbreak (Anna Farris) and make their way into…the cloud.
Yes, it’s that kind of movie. The up to date modern tech references fly by at a furious rate, the better to confuse the kiddies. What they won’t notice is the lack of characterization, the deus ex machina make-up of the storyline (the emojis are “controlled” by a user named Alex – Jake T. Austin – who is himself a teenage boy) and the constant attempts to make cutesy into something meaningful. Oh, and before you ask, the infamous “poop” emoji is here and represented by Patrick Stewart in his familiar farcical American Dad mode.
This is nothing but shameless pandering to a demographic that really doesn’t know better. In fact, the younger the kid, the better they will like The Emoji Movie. That’s because age brings on a certain set of expectations when it comes to entertainment. Children, on the other hand will marvel at anything with bright color and silly shapes–and this film has those in droves. Like those infamous video games in the ’80s, this effort should come with a warning about the constant visual chaos causing seizures. It’s relentless in its desire to avoid depth while keeping the cinematic clickbait on fleek.
There will be some who excuse this movie for being exactly what it promised to be–a callous cash grab that fully understands what a parent circa 2017 needs to keep the kids contained. They won’t mind the braindead dialogue, the lack of logic, or anything remotely close to heart. Those are all things for a grown-up movie to deal with. Director Tony Leonidis (who also had a hand in the script) has done better. His Igor was a nifty love letter to the old school horrors made famous by Universal. But The Emoji Movie has no such reputation to trade on. Instead, it warrants a symbolic reaction that would shock most.