REVIEW: The Emoji Movie (2017)

Director: Tony Leondis

Cast: T.J Miller, Anna Faris, James Corden, Maya Rudolph, Patrick Stewart

Running time: 86 minutes

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In Textopolis, the city within a smartphone home to all emojis, each emoji has only one distinct facial expression. Gene (Miller), the ‘Meh’ emoji, struggles to stick to his pre-ordained expression, however, and so teams up with the underused high-five emoji (Corden) and a codebreaker emoji called Jailbreak (Faris) on a quest to become a better Meh.

So, let’s face it, The Emoji Movie was as inevitable as the use of the aubergine emoji in the Whatsapp group chat, wasn’t it?!

If some colourful plastic building blocks can go and make a movie, do a really good job of doing so, and make a tonne of money while they’re at it, it comes as no surprise that a load of yellow phone smileys would think to do the same. The difference being, whereas the former gave us a film we never knew we wanted, the latter gives us something we always knew we never wanted.

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For all the pre-release um-ing and argh-ing, and the groans of avid trailer watchers everywhere, Sony Pictures Animation might have done something truly inventive and brilliantly bonkers with The Emoji Movie. Sadly, this is drivel of the most predictable and painstakingly unfunny kind. Opening with the obligatory expositional blabber about a world within your phone (the imaginatively entitled Textopolis), the glossy colours and cheery animation scream Inside Out, but ends up being an 86-minute reminder of just how good Pixar’s neuropsychological adventure really is.

Our entry into the world of all things emoji is Gene, a.k.a Meh (basically, the face my girlfriend gives me every time I try to crack jokes), as he bumbles about the numerous expressions and moods he shares his existence with. There’s harmless playfulness at work here (the crying emoji winning the lottery, and the laughing emoji breaking his arm) as Gene explains the plot to us: each emoji can only do one thing – with the exception of or protagonist, of course. And such a crisis of identity happens to coincide with his first day of work at emoji HQ, known as the Text Centre – the establishment where emojis go to be selected by the phone’s owner, Alex (Jake T. Austin). This should be the base upon which the film begins to build its wonderfully whimsical narrative whirlwind of hilarity. What we get instead is frustrating one-dimensional character archetypes – the clumsy, annoying sidekick in the form of Corden’s High-Five, and the sinister smiley, Smiler (Rudolph) – a flurry of half-arsed poop-pun jokes, and the roots of an unintentional irony that runs throughout.

In a film containing the full spectrum of moods and emotions, you’ll feel absolutely nothing whatsoever, and the only mood it’ll put you in is a bad one. With Gene, his quest will be to nail down an emotion we’ve all been feeling ever since minute one. And the whole Text Centre thing that makes selecting an emoji a contrived and corporate mechanism? Well, yea, that’ll be a precursor to all the shameless product placement the film throws at you amidst its stale humour – you’ll spend less time laughing than you will wondering how Dropbox – yes Dropbox – manages to sneak a cameo.

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To its credit, this is the best Sir Patrick Stewart-voices-poop-film out there; and somewhere in there is a subtle commentary about the smartphone generation being just as mechanical as the emojis that dictate their expressions of emotion. But the narrative strokes are far too broad and predictable, and the character depth far too shallow for The Emoji Movie to carry any real weight, or a narrative dilemma that we can truly invest in or give a damn about the outcome.

In the spirit of predictability, The Emoji Movie is, well:
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