Cast: (voiced by) T.J. Miller, James Corden, Anna Faris, Maya Rudolph, Steven Wright, Jennifer Coolidge, Christina Aguilera, Sofía Vergara, Sean Hayes, Patrick Stewart
Director: Tony Leondis
Writers: Tony Leondis, Eric Siegel, Mike White
Once upon a time, I walked into The LEGO Movie completely convinced that I was going to hate it. I had no idea at the time what critics and audiences were saying because I usually try to avoid that kind of stuff before watching a film. All I knew was that I hated the very idea of The LEGO Movie. As I sat there in the theatre I didn’t think I was going to watch a movie, I thought I was going to watch a 90-minute commercial. And, in a way, that’s exactly what I got. A clever, funny, enormously entertaining and even surprisingly profound 90-minute commercial. Then I saw The Emoji Movie, and it was everything I thought The LEGO Movie was going to be and worse. It’s a bad movie, but that’s not why I hated it. What I hated was the movie’s blatant commercialisation, its shamelessness, its total creative bankruptcy. I would call what this film did prostitution, except that would imply the movie has something that’s actually worth paying for.
The movie takes place within the smartphone of Alex, your average teenage boy. He has a crush on a girl called Addie and needs to find the perfect emoji to text her. These emojis all live together in Textopolis and it is their job to provide Alex with whatever emoji he calls upon. Our main emoji is Gene, the son of two ‘meh’ emojis, who feels anything but ‘meh’. Even though emojis are only ever allowed to express their one given expression, Gene is so animated that he cannot contain himself to one emotion. On his first day on the job, Gene panics and screws up, delivering Alex a confusing emoji. Smiler, the leader of the emojis, determines that Gene is a malfunction and must be eliminated. Gene escapes with the help of Hi-5 and together they set off in search of the Cloud where he hopes he can be reprogrammed into the ‘meh’ he was always meant to be. They meet and recruit Jailbreak, the only emoji who can help them reach the Cloud, and travel through a maze of popular and marketable apps as they learn about friendship and being yourself and all that rubbish.
The film has drawn comparisons to Inside Out, a movie where the characters explore different parts of the human psyche in the same way that the emojis explore different parts of Alex’s phone. Inside Out adopted this approach in order to highlight and explore the function and value of human emotions and the role they play in our growth from adolescence to adulthood. A narrative whereby the emojis visit the different apps on this teenager’s phone might have allowed them the opportunity to explore some of the concerns a teenage boy might have at that age. Things like the pressures of social media, issues with privacy, dependency on technology, the detachment the virtual world creates from the real one, any one of these topics, if handled properly, is something that a young audience could identify and relate to. I’m not saying this had to be an episode of Black Mirror, it’s a kids movie after all, but had this movie followed the examples of Inside Out and The LEGO Movie by using its concept to address and explore larger themes and ideas, we might have had something quite interesting and, dare I say, good. But The Emoji Movie wasn’t interested in any of that. It was only interested in giving product placement to branded apps and showing how super rad and awesome they are to its audience of braindead eight-year-olds. The brazenly materialistic attitude this movie holds is beyond contemptible.
This movies isn’t just void of integrity, it is void of imagination. There isn’t a single original idea in this whole movie that offers anything of worth. There isn’t a single joke that lands, no moment of excitement, and no emotional substance whatsoever. The moral this movie shoehorns in about believing in yourself is so banal and hollow that it might as well have been written by Siri. If any of the actors felt any enthusiasm for the material they were given, it did not come through in their performance. Casting Sir Patrick Stewart (emphasis on the Sir) as Poop is an idea that could’ve led to some good laughs, except the movie does absolutely nothing with it. The jokes don’t even amount to potty-mouthed double-entendres because even that would be too high-calibre for this movie. All through this movie I sat there looking, listening, searching for something, anything to justify its existence. I don’t use emojis myself, so perhaps this was a chance to learn something about their value as a means of communication. But no, it was all for naught.
There is nothing I can write that will ever convey the full depth of my derision for this film. I hate this movie for how utterly perverse and transparent it is in its materialism. I hate this movie for how totally empty it is of even the slightest trace of wit, feeling, and creativity. I loathe this movie for leeching off the success of other films like Inside Out, which has more profundity, entertainment and emotion in its opening frame than this movie has in its entire 90-minute runtime. I despise this movie for its gross failure to make any basic use of the enormous comedic talent at its disposal. I abhor this movie for using its young audience as an excuse not to put any kind of thought or effort into whatever it thinks passes for story, character, and sensation. I hate this movie for not caring. I hate this movie for existing. I hate this movie for daring to ask for my time and money and for offering me less than nothing in return. We live in a world where children’s movies can be wondrous, smart, hilarious, touching, and profound. This movie aspires to be none of those things and that is its only success.