One can vaguely detect, deep within The Emoji Movie, a perfectly pleasant animated adventure tied to the way that emoji, those cute ideograms used in text conversations, have become inexorably tied to our real emotions. If one doubts such an idea, think of how automatically emoji are used in those text messages or in comments upon posts on social media sites. Either through subversion or allegory, such a tale could provide meaningful commentary on that current cultural trend. Instead, we have The Emoji Movie, which is a lazy fantasy and a strangely wistful ode to consumerist product.
It is lazy because the film's screenplay (written by Eric Siegel, Mike White, and director Tony Leondis) relies upon the most generic of fantasy tropes to tell an equally generic story. It's a bland savior narrative that finds Gene (voice of T.J. Miller) discovering more about himself than he ever thought there might be. That is because Gene is a "meh" emoji with a software malfunction that causes him to be able to adopt the expressions of his surrounding emoji. This displeases Smiler (voice of Maya Rudolph), the original emoji, whose wide grin becomes more disconcerting and whose gleeful tone ultimately stretches itself with a hint of menace. This makes no sense, either in concept or in practice, but we eventually disengage enough from intellectual examination to go with it.
Smiler decides to execute (sorry, delete) Gene, and it's at this point that I realized something: This plot, within the confines of a narrative that sees a smartphone as its own universe, makes no sense. I wasn't asking for realism in the narrative, but as Gene teamed up with Hi-5 (voice of James Corden), a high-five emoji, and Jailbreak (voice of Anna Faris), who wants to bring the pair to the freedom of the Cloud, the limits of credulity in the gimmick outside the phone (which has become, to its owner, a nuisance that needs a factory reset) begin to stretch. The actions of the emoji and surrounding programs begin to look more like sentience than programming.
The plot kicks in when the owner of the phone (voice of Jake T. Austin) attempts to reply to a girl in whom he has interest. Gene, in a fit of nervousness, bungles the moment he is summoned to be part of a reply and morphs into an altogether different emoji. This is the incident for which Smiler condemns him to a public execution (sorry, deletion), and he escapes. The film becomes a rote chase movie, with Gene, Hi-5, and Jailbreak escaping from bots sent by Smiler and seeking refuge in apps across the smartphone's wallpaper, from the security of Dropbox to useless excursions within the Candy Crush Saga and Just Dance apps to being whisked along the "streams" of Spotify music.
The point of all this, which becomes repetitive visual noise, is eventually lost on the screenwriters, who offer contradictory messages throughout. It's an extended be-yourself adage, except that it reeks of a journey toward regressing into a "self" that is less expressive than docile. It's an animated adventure, except that the points of the adventure exist within a closed and limiting world in which the participants and inhabitants are happy to serve a singular purpose. It's supposedly for kids, except that there is an entire character dedicated to defecation jokes in the form of the Poop emoji (voice of Patrick Stewart). That's not even the lowest point of The Emoji Movie, a lazy and lackadaisical waste of energy.
Featuring the voices of T.J. Miller (Gene), James Corden (Hi-5), Anna Faris (Jailbreak), Maya Rudolph (Smiler), Steven Wright (Mel), Jennifer Coolidge (Mary), Jake T. Austin (Alex), Patrick Stewart (Poop), Christina Aguilera (Akiko Glitter), Sofia Vergara (Flamenca), Rachael Ray (Spam), Sean Hayes (Devil), Tati Gabrielle (Addie), and Jeffrey Ross (Internet Troll).
Directed by Tony Leondis and written by Leondis, Eric Siegel, and Mike White.
Rated PG (rude humor).
Released on July 28, 2017.