Brandon Richardson | 10/09/2017
If you thought it would be difficult for Hollywood to exceed the rank profiteering expedition that was The Angry Birds Movie, then you will be absolutely stunned to bear witness to the utter patheticness that is The Emoji Movie.
Usually when giving an overview of a film’s plot, it is wise to refrain from giving spoilers. Yet this film is so singularly cliche that to do so would be futile. Protagonist lives in a town where everyone is set in their ways. Protagonist has some unique feature and doesn’t fit in. Protagonist does something to the town that makes him an outcast. Protagonist goes on a journey of self-discovery to learn to appreciate his uniqueness. Protagonist uses his unique features to do something heroic. The only twist on this vanilla story is that it is set in the “magical” world of the smartphone, inhabited by the Emojis that are so readily replacing the written word in our social communication. Gene (T.J. Miller) is a “meh” emoji with the unique ability of being able to change his face, but at the cost of not being able to control his emotions. When he fails to successfully pull a “meh” face when needed for his smartphone’s user, he is persecuted by the smiling emoji (Maya Rudolph), who acts as the town’s leader, and seeks out a notorious hacker called Jailbreak (Anna Faris) to turn him into the “meh” he was born to be.
This is certainly not the first film to use anthropomorphism of everyday things as a cornerstone, and a reasonable suspension of disbelief is to be expected. Many films have run with this concept and produced a thought provoking story of excellent quality. Notable examples of this include Toy Story and Inside Out. The key to creating these worlds that did not seem too far outside the world of reality was to create internally consistent logic that is not at odds with the world around it. This is one of the critical areas where The Emoji Movie fails to impress. For example: why does each emoji need to be scanned by a machine every time someone decides to send it as a text, despite the fact that, as the film shows us, the list of emojis already appears on the phone for the user to select? For some reason, they need to be scanned by a special machine to go from being on that list to being in an actual text. Why don’t they need to be scanned when the person is receiving a text? Why is it that aside from Gene and a young Poop emoji, no one seems to have any parents? Both of Gene’s parents are “meh” emojis as well, suggesting that all emojis are derived from parents who are the same emoji. However, considering we never see any other “meh” emojis, this raises serious doubt over exactly how such a diverse range of emojis came into existence. This is only a fraction of the extensive list of questions about this smartphone universe that remain unanswered.
On top of this deeply unsatisfying premise is an abundance of deeply unsatisfying comedy and screenwriting. While there is occasionally some intelligence displayed in highlighting how normal human life might conflict with how emojis would live, the screenwriters show preference for picking the low-hanging fruit by making cheap puns about the poop emoji. It also suffers from making misguided attempts at ultra-contemporary meme references, which are always outdated by the time a script is actually turned into a film. The result is the filmmakers thinking that simply saying “hashtag” in front of a word makes it funny, or that a protracted reference to “PPAP” (if you don’t know what it is, don’t bother looking it up) is going to be anything other than cringeworthy in late 2017. The same can be said for the atrocious product placement that permeates the film, although at least it seems Facebook were wise enough to extricate themselves from the hindenburg of 2017 films.
Perhaps the biggest crime this film commits is its artificially engineered conflicts designed to pad out its runtime. At its mildest, it is throwaway, out-of-place lines about men taking credit for the ideas of women. At its worst, it’s Gene’s parents deciding to separate for almost no apparent reason, purely so they can have an “emotional” reunion in Instagram later down the track. I mean sure, there’s enough here to make this film a wholesome enough experience for kids, but it’s these cheap tactics that really leave a sour taste in older viewers mouths. Instead of funding original, creative or meaningful ideas that might inspire future filmmakers, studio executives decide to funnel 50 million USD into this steaming pile of garbage because they think it is an easy money grab. Perhaps the most sickening part is that it’s already grossed over 160 million USD worldwide, giving these studios all the more reason to keep doing the same.
With The Emoji Movie, Sony Pictures Animation have produced one of the strongest arguments against free market capitalism in modern memory. Congratulations.