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Blu-ray Review: The Emoji Movie

November 21, 2017

By John Corrado

★½ (out of 4)

Gene (T.J. Miller) is a “meh” emoji, who lives in the messenger app inside the phone of a constantly texting high schooler named Alex (Jake T. Austin).  The trouble is that Mel has more than one emotion, much to the chagrin of his parents (Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge).

On the day of his first job, Gene ends up “glitching” and showing more than just his “meh” face when he is chosen to be used in a text, and is threatened to be deleted by the head of the corporation, Smiler (Maya Rudolph).  He ends up on the run with Hi-Five (James Corden), in search of a hacker named Jailbreak (Anna Faris) who might be able to help him fix his malfunction, and this journey takes them to different apps in the phone.

With my plot summary of The Emoji Movie out of the way, now onto my critical analysis of the film.  So let me just start by saying that, yes, the film is just as bad and ill-conceived as everyone joked it would be.  This is the sort of movie that people went to see just so that they could tweet about it using the prerequisite “poop” emoji, who is given a supporting role here, brought to life thanks to the voice of Patrick Stewart.  If the fact that a pile of shit is one of the characters doesn’t give you a sense of how lowbrow The Emoji Movie really is, then let me just say that the rest of the film is equally content to scrape along the bottom of the barrel.

While the idea of setting a film inside a teen’s smartphone isn’t terrible in and of itself, any flashes of wit that this premise could have allowed for are completely smothered by the overabundance of poop jokes and the lazy excuse for a plot, which borrows liberally from vastly superior animated films like Wreck-It Ralph and Inside Out.  I would even go as far to say that The Emoji Movie is one of the worst and most uninspired animated films from a major studio – Sony Pictures Animation in this case, who have actually made some good films – in recent memory.

The film functions as little more than a feature length commercial for smartphones and any myriad of apps, with set pieces taking place in Candy Crush, Just Dance and YouTube.  The characters even fly away on a literal Twitter bird at one point.  None of this feels clever or inventive, but rather like a soul crushing modern product, that has been designed in a lab as a virtual babysitter for kids who are already suffering from shortened attention spans and addictions to their technological devices.  My extra half-star only goes out to the many animators who worked hard on the film and helped make parts of it look shiny and nice, but had no control over the actual story.

This is nothing more than a lazy cash grab, with a cheap and poorly thought out message about being unique and accepting yourself for who you are tacked on to try and give it some depth.  The film hits us over the head with its predictable and by now entirely overused “be yourself no matter what” message, which at one point might have seemed like a good thing, but has now turned into its own weird sort of conformity in the way it’s so often presented.  This is also one of the strangest takes on gay conversion therapy that I have ever seen, with Gene’s parents wanting him to hide his changing emotions.

It’s hard to wax philosophical about a movie that features a personified talking turd amongst its cast, but The Emoji Movie is indicative of much larger problems in society involving our increasing reliance on technology and lack of human contact, with a superficial and materialistic story that serves as a sort of corporate brainwashing for young audiences.  Who knew that one of the most soulless and existentially troubling films of the year would be an animated movie about emojis, but I guess that kind of weirdly sums up where our culture is at in 2017.  This is one of those shockingly bad movies that is almost worth seeing just to fully appreciate how bad it is, but that’s hardly a recommendation.

The Blu-ray also includes a commentary track, the production featurettes Jailbreak Decoded: The Untold Story, Express Yourself: Meet the Cast, Girls Can Code!, Choreographing Emoji With Matt Steffanina, Creating the World Inside Your Phone and Bringing Emojis to Life, as well as a tutorials on how to draw the characters Gene and Poop, a Guess the Emoji game, a video of how to make a Candy Crush cake, and a dance along and lyric video for the song “Good Vibrations.”

Finally, the disc also includes a new Hotel Transylvania short entitled Puppy!, which basically serves as an extended preview of the upcoming third film in the series, and is vaguely amusing enough in and of itself, but hardly worth the price of purchase on its own.

The Emoji Movie is a Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release.  It’s 86 minutes and rated G.

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