If I were to give one solid piece of advice, it would be to never waste your money on The Emoji Movie. If you’re that desperate to see it, wait until it comes to TV. I had initially been skeptical, having seen numerous reviews panning the movie and with it currently holding a 6% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I had questioned as to whether people were just jumping on the band wagon to slate the film. Unfortunately for me, I was proven wrong and it is 1 hour 26 minutes I will never regain.
I always like to start with some positives, if they can be found. In this case I would stretch to say that at least it is colourful. Is it an animated masterpiece? No… But it uses a lot of colour, so that’s always nice to see. And that’s about it for positives to be honest.
Obviously The Emoji Movie is Sony’s answer to Disney’s hit 2015 animation Inside Out. And trust me it shows. Starting with the concept alone, an entire world with specific characters all in charge of one thing that controls what comes out of your phone sounds awfully similar to the concept of similar characters controlling your emotions that control your body. Factor in very similar scenes between the two, Inside Out’s collection halls of memories obviously inspired the hallways between the different phone apps, and the Trash can that Hi-5 (James Corden) ends up in seems awfully similar to Inside Out’s Memory dump, it is just much less of an emotional scene this time around. Unfortunately for The Emoji Movie, talking emojis on someone’s phone is not as personal a concept as a child’s own personified emotions, and so it is was always going to be hard to get the emotional response needed from the audience for this type of film. Had the film been released two maybe three years ago, it may have done well. It would have been a new concept never before explored and to be fair it is a fairly decent plot, but its stylistic design and story are all too familiar to an audience who has not yet forgotten the Disney hit.
Now for the script… for starters, it is not is slightest bit a comedy. It is clear where the jokes are placed, but they are just not funny. The script relies heavily on jargon based puns regarding the emoji and situation they are in. But lines like ‘get with the programme’ are met with tumble weed rolling across the cinema floor. It is a shame that this is the case considering the line up of star billed comedians that were cast: T.J. Miller plays Gene, Anna Faris plays Jailbreak and James Corden as Hi-5. Considering the latter co-created beloved British comedy Gavin and Stacy, it is clear these comedians had no say in the jokes they were spouting. I am confident that if they did, the movie would have gone down a lot better. Meanwhile, veteran actor Patrick Stewart is reduced to the role of a talking s**t. It is almost an insult to give God damn Professor X lines of ‘just doing my duty’ and ‘we’re number two’, which according to the writers (Tony Leondis and Eric Siegel) are expected to be comedic gold.
In my opinion, there just was not enough research done behind the scenes. If the researchers had done their job they’d have known that if you are going to be using gaming apps –such as Candy Crush and Just Dance- as a vital part of your plot, then you need only look at Angry Birds (2016) -which received mixed reviews from critics and average ratings- to know they needed to step up their game in order for this concept to work.
More importantly, the demographics are all over the place. I would initially recommend this film for young children given the pun jokes fall flat. But even then there is not enough of the stupid humour (you know, the farts and injuries that children seem to love and find hilarious) to keep them entertained. Only the aforementioned colourfulness and relatively easy to follow plotline would achieve this.
Even the teenage demographic is only halfheartedly and inconstantly addressed. If you are going to throw in innuendo jokes, such as ‘what would a teenage boy want to hide from his parents’ when referring to a skin disguising an actual app, you cannot then say that the aubergine/eggplant emoji is a part of the unused, loser emoji club. It is inconsistent and honestly had me very confused for a good ten minutes as to why it was not among the most used for a boy of this age. Especially when later on the song ‘Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve seen’ is God awfully modified to ‘Nobody knows the Screenshots I’ve seen’. Evidently the demographics here are not consistent.
But perhaps what really lets this movie down, and what honestly could have made the film a lot better, is its lack of character development. Admittedly, when we meet Gene we get a good sense of who he is, but this is largely because he is the main character and the opening narrator. However, when we are first introduced to Jailbreak, she comes across as surly and somewhat standoffish. However, within no time at all the character is risking life and limb to save someone she has literally just met, and a budding romance follows. It just seems very rushed. It would have been more convincing if there was some initial distrust or animosity that then became friendship. Likewise, Genes parents (Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge) –although for the plot of the film are only supposed to have one emotion, there’s being ‘meh’ – come across as unloving parents, yet the next minute risk their lives going out into the wider phone universe to find him. By restricting the emojis to one emotion only, it loses a lot of character development, and by consequence audience empathy along with it.
There is the beginning of some feminist thought to the storyline, which I initially jumped at as is it so often absent from Hollywood. Jailbreak mentions that female emojis are given two options either be a Princess emoji, or a Bride one (although I think the Bunny Girl emoji and the Dancing Woman emoji must have been forgotten here, despite both appearing in scenes earlier on). That being said Jailbreak just wants to be herself instead, donning her own attire in the process. Yet, at the end of the film she is back to being a Princess emoji. It makes her journey somewhat counterproductive or at least unresolved, and as a result unsatisfying. That being said, Gene at the end does finally accept himself for his uniqueness (in emoji terms), which I suppose does bring the self-acceptance storyline full circle.
Despite being in many ways an awful film, The Emoji Movie does encourage self-acceptance and to be yourself. A positive message for anyone who dares to actually watch.