The Emoji Movie
2017, PG, 86 min. Directed by Tony Leondis. Voices by T.J. Miller, James Corden, Anna Faris, Maya Rudolph, Steven Wright, Patrick Stewart, Jennifer Coolidge, Jake T. Austin, Christina Aguilera, Sofía Vergara.
REVIEWED By Danielle White, Fri., Aug. 4, 2017
The voice of this generation can be summed up in one lousy little nonword: “meh.” It can be defined as “That doesn’t impress me,” or more to the point, “I don’t care.” Which is precisely how one might feel after seeing The Emoji Movie. Yes, it’s true that at some point, just about everybody became strangely obsessed with their smartphones. There’s a whole world in there, but it’s not the one you think. Director Tony Leondis, along with screenwriters Mike White and Eric Siegel, dreamed up a place (app) called Textopolis, where each emoji works in a “cube” doing its “job” by making its respective designated face. It’s simple; just stick to the status quo. But that’s a problem for Gene (Miller), the meh face, who comes from a long line of Mehs (his parents are voiced by Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge). Gene just can’t seem to get a grip on his own grimace. He grossly over-expresses himself to the detriment of the entire emoji world, as one malfunction could lead to the entire phone getting wiped.
The ensuing plot is lame and predictable (I kept checking my phone, so at least we know the branding is effective), the jokes are bad (I gave up trying to count how many times they replaced “man” with “meh”), the pop-culture references are weirdly outdated, and for featuring such emotional characters, there is virtually nothing in which to emotionally invest. Emojis certainly have their functions; they’re great for punctuating a text or elaborating on an Instagram post. But slapping a pair of legs and some hair on a yellow dot giving it the ol’ side-eye does not a three-dimensional character make. It’s actually a little creepy.
It’s obvious that the writing team drew heavily from Toy Story, Happy Feet, and Inside Out. But where those films evoke a sense of empathy and nostalgia (favorite toys and awkward stages of life), The Emoji Movie leaves audiences with a sense of cynicism and isolation in a claustrophobic world. (Maybe Candy Crush spammers will like it? Idk.) Sure, at the heart, there’s the obligatory feel-good message that it’s best to embrace your “weirdness” early on, but forgive me if I’m hesitant to take life advice from a film that features an actual turd as a supporting character (Poop, voiced by – gasp, horror, dead face, skull & bones – Patrick Stewart). Is “meh” the sound the world will make when it finally sputters out? It doesn’t matter because we are clearly #sooverit.