Mark Reviews Movies

The Emoji Movie


0.5 Star (out of 4)

Director: Tony Leondis

Cast: The voices of T.J. Miller, James Corden, Anna Faris, Maya Rudolph, Steven Wright, Jennifer Coolidge, Jake T. Austin, Patrick Stewart, Christina Aguilera, Sofía Vergara, Rachel Ray, Sean Hayes, Tati Gabrielle, Jeffrey Ross

MPAA Rating: PG (for rude humor)

Running Time: 1:26

Release Date: 7/28/17

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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 27, 2017

With its bright colors and cute characters, The Emoji Movie clearly was made, presumably by adults, for young kids, even though it's about technology in a way that a person has to be at least a pre-teen in order to appreciate. It's a movie that's too bland for adults, too cutesy and juvenile for teens and pre-teens, and too confusing for kids. In other words, it's a movie for no one, except all of the companies that signed on to have their mobile applications and games blatantly promoted without a lick of shame on the part of the filmmakers.

This is basically an 86-minute advertisement for kids to want smartphones, get as many of the apps they see in the movie on those devices, and keep them there. They'll really want to keep them, too, because the movie suggests that deleting an app or game kills the adorable characters with the funny faces within them, banishing them to a digital death—a non-existence from which there is no return.

There's something kind of sinister about that part of the movie's advertising push. It's akin to a form of brainwashing—an attempt to program kids to feel genuine, emotional attachment to their mobile devices and the stuff it can do. If I thought the movie had any capacity to influence people, especially kids, I'd probably award it a big, fat goose egg on the Irrelevant Rating in Stars System. Since it's an unimaginative, unfunny, and lazy attempt to cash in on a couple of trends, it's really not worth the disrepute that a zero-star rating implies.

The movie imagines that a smartphone is a universe unto itself, where various apps contain digital worlds and entities that exist to serve the phone's user. This is a bleak existence, if one gives it any thought. All the emoji (or "emojis," as the movie calls more than one of them), though, are content to spend every day getting into a bunch of cubes, waiting for their phone's user to pick them, and being scanned into a text message for amusing, if meaningless, communications.

Gene (voice of T.J. Miller) is supposed to be a "meh" face, but he's a malfunction, meaning that he's capable of making more expressions than a slack-jawed one of indifference. He must, according to a committee of emoji, be deleted. The members of that committee, by the way, include Smiler (voice of Maya Rudolph), who says everything with a wide and disconcerting grin, and Poop (voice of Patrick Stewart, who wisely alters his unmistakable baritone just enough that he could deny participation in this later), who cannot stop making poop jokes and puns, even without being aware of doing it.

This represents the levels of humor and imagination for which the screenplay (written by director Tony Leondis, Eric Siegel, and Mike White) reaches. Even the puns, though, are out of this movie's reach. It's as if the writers simply came up with a list of such jokes and plugged them in without any consideration for setting them up properly.

Our confused hero wants to change to be normal, so with the help of Hi-5 (voice of James Corden), an open-palmed hand who resents that the phone's owner hasn't used him in a while, Gene leaves the text app. The pair goes looking for an emoji hacker who can make Gene into the bland entity that he's supposed to be. The hacker is Jailbreak (voice of Anna Faris), who desperately wants to escape the rules of the phone for the freedom of the Cloud.

With all of the available possibilities in imagining what a functioning world inside a smartphone would look like, the movie seems to simply go for function. The emoji's world is made up of 3-D models of emoji buildings and other objects. The phone itself is just a 3-D model of a smartphone's menu, with some lines of binary code moving past in the background on occasion. The apps and games look like the real-life counterparts, which is at least some truth in advertising on the movie's part. One moment, in which Gene's parents (voiced by Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge) find themselves inside a family photo on a frozen-in-time street in Paris, is genuinely lovely. That only helps to remind us of junk surrounding that scene.

Look, it's a movie about talking emoji. There's not much to the idea, but filmmakers who actually thought there was something to be done with it, well, could have done something with it. The Emoji Movie shows that they didn't think so, so they didn't bother trying.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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