The Emoji Movie is perhaps the best case for atheism the screen has ever presented, because what just God would allow this to happen? In the best-case scenario for this film, it is just an eighty-minute commercial for smartphones. That’s the best case for this movie. The worst case is that it is eye poison that will rot our children’s brains in its offensive stupidity. Rarely when I list off a worst-case scenario do I have to confirm its reality, but here we are. This is the best the world can come up with. This is the best the human race can do. I’m sorry, but if that’s the case, then that asteroid can come strike us now, because we truly deserve it.
Gene (T.J. Miller) is a “Meh” emoji from the city of Textopolis (god*mmit) on young Alex’s (Jake T. Austin) phone. Despite being the son of famous emoticons Mary (Jennifer Coolidge) and Mel (Steven Wright) (pronounced Meh-ry and Meh-l, because of course), Gene can’t help but express several different emotions – pretty much anything except “meh.” When he screws up a text to Alex’s crush Addie, the rest of the emojis, led by Smiler (Maya Rudolph) decide that Gene is a malfunction and the best course of action is to execute him for the world’s entertainment (Jesus, that escalated quickly). On the run from the Software Bots with the disgruntled High-Five (James Corden), the two hire the hacker Jailbreak (Anna Faris) to break them into the Cloud (ugggghhhhhhhhh) to fix all of their problems. Smiler pursues them, Mel and Mary hunt for their son while dealing with marital problems, Alex decides to erase his phone and kill everyone, they go to Spotify, Patrick Stewart shows up for about one minute as the Poop emoji, and somehow these thirty ridiculously dumb plots are all jammed into less than a hour and a half of Sartrian Hell.
I legitimately don’t know where to start with this nightmare. I guess I can start with the laziness of the filmmaking, because any sequence that doesn’t look cheaply animated is usually stolen from something else (read: better). When I say this movie stole, I mean that both in terms of animation and story. I’ll use the two most blatant examples to prove my point, The Lego Movie and Inside Out. The parallels to The Lego Movie are endless, what with the blatant attempts at commercialism and the general plot about an ordinary hero teaming up with a girl he likes along with a series of bigger commercials to save their world from certain destruction. What’s more, a few of the shots look blatantly copied from the film, including the opening shot of Textopolis (that will never feel right, written out or verbally spoken) resembling the opening shot of Bricksburg, or a scene where the main characters fall into another world that looks identical to the Legos’ entry into the Old West. Hell, if they went to court over it, I’m pretty sure Phil Lord and Chris Miller would have a case. However, there are a few key differences between the two films. Ok, there are a lot of differences, but I want to focus on two. The first is the crass commercialism. In The Lego Movie, Lord and Miller satirize commercialization while also finding the heart in the beloved toy chain. Here, director Tony Leondis (a name now synonymous with Josef Stalin and Pol Pot) offers commercialization in its purest form, with a few half-hearted jabs that seem to lay the problem at the feet of the user instead of at the people desperate enough to buy into their marketing (more on this in a second) and mainly just embraces its dumbness as a badge of dishonor. The second, more ridiculous issue is in their hero. The reason we cheer for Emmett in The Lego Movie is because he didn’t ask for any of it – heroism was forced upon him, and he embraced it because he cared about other people. Gene is not a likable character, no matter how hard the film tries. If they wanted us to like him, they wouldn’t have cast T.J. Miller, who is by nature the most unlikable comedian of all time (which is why I normally love him). What’s worse, literally every problem in this film comes about because of Gene. That’s right, he’s responsible for every bad thing that comes about. In most movies, if you remove the protagonist from the equation, the worst-case scenario plays out. If you removed Gene from this film, nothing bad happens. At all. Life goes on and everyone’s the same, maybe even happier. I’m all for bold storytelling, but this isn’t bold – it’s downright lazy, and I won’t stand for it.
As for Inside Out, the parallels are just as blatant. The mission control sequences and the imagery of crumbling worlds that exist in The Emoji Movie seem like direct references to the world of Riley’s brain in the 2015 animated classic. The plot parallels are even closer, as we watch the emojis cater to the everyday life of Alex the same way that the emotions controlled Riley’s. They even band together to teach him an “important lesson” like the superior earlier work (we’ll get to this, too). However, there’s something that Inside Out had that The Emoji Movie does not: a charismatic child. Whenever Inside Out cut back to the real world, we were invested because we cared about Riley. She was likable, relatable, and her issues were handled intelligently and respectfully. We could root for her, because even in her flaws we could see the wonderful person she was. Alex is, at best, boring. He shows up sporadically, and we learn nothing about him. Well, that’s not true. We know a few creepy facts. We know he is in love with/stalks a girl in his class whom he has never spoken to, and yet has written her creepy emails and used her name as his Firewall password (note: he’s fourteen). We know that he’s obnoxious and speaks like a stereotypical teenager that has been written by a forty-year-old man who has never met a teenager before. And we know that he has a big folder of porn on his phone (ok, we don’t know what’s in the folder, but the joke is obvious). Hooray, that’s what I want from the children in my kids’ films. Bad slang and a porn folder he can use while he imagines the girl he watches from afar. Perhaps it’s best they make the real world so nonsensical – I’m not sure I want to get to know this Alex character.
What’s stranger about this movie are its mixed messages and attempts at “comedy.” Actually, I’ll give them a few points for comedy. There’s a scene set in a hacker bar that has a few good jokes about piracy, spam (as voiced by Rachael Ray), and Internet Trolls (as played by Jeff Ross in a brilliant move). Anytime Ross plays a troll, I laughed harder than I had any right to in a movie about emojis, there’s a solid scene where Patrick Stewart-as-Poop swirls around in a chair Star Trek-style, and whoever thought of casting the droll Steven Wright as the Meh emoji deserves a raise. However, these jokes also served to remind me how unfunny the rest of the movie was, so points immediately taken away and that person who just got a raise should be immediately fired. Nothing else in this movie lands – not the fact that this movie features “humorous” plots revolving around executions and emoji genocide (I wish I was joking), not a dumb joke about Casablanca, not the humor of otherwise-funny comedians, and most certainly not the “humorous” attempts to teach the audience lessons.
This movie’s attempts at morals feature some of the most misguided teaching I have ever seen on film. Let’s start with their treatment of millennials, because I’m pretty sure most of this film’s issues rise from there. This movie is one of the most anti-millennial pieces of “art” I have ever seen. Now, I’m not against a good millennial joke – a large portion are quite self-centered, and we can be a bit stupid at times. However, the film goes after them hard over the self-centered thing, with blatant “jokes” about how “In this day and age, it doesn’t matter who loves you. All that matters is who likes you!” (A real quote from a sadly-real movie) Yeah, that’s great movie, but you’re trying to prove this point through emojis and a Facebook joke involving people saying “Like me! Like me! Like me!” and one woman holding a baby. You know who uses emojis and tries to get you to like the photos of their baby for attention? Your fifty-year-old aunt who wants to be young again. So pretty much their entire message here is not only clichéd, but misguided as well. They attempt to teach young girls feminism, only to teach a completely nonsensical version to young girls, and then immediately tells them to disregard that message as well. So not only are they failing to teach people about feminism, they’re following it up by saying to just ignore it. It’s not surprising to learn that this movie was written by three men. And then there’s the final moral. At the end of the movie, Gene sends himself as a text to Addie, Alex’s love interest, who comes over and declares, “I like that you’re the type of guy who can express himself.” Yeah, that’s great, except a) this message was never explained anywhere else in the film, and b) Alex didn’t express himself – Gene did. Alex hasn’t changed at all. He’s still a creepy little sh*t. And this inspires him to save his phone from complete deletion at the last second (not how technology works, but sure), saying, “It may be a weird phone, but it’s my phone.” Great kid, you know how to spew dumber “philosophy” than Vin Diesel. Go f*ck yourself.
However, the worst thing about this film is not the bad writing, offensively dumb plot points, or mountain of stolen clichés. It’s the fact that it does all of this and still delivers one of the most boring and forgettable films I have ever seen. I made a big deal in my review of The Book of Henry over the fact that I looked at my watch at the twenty minute mark out of boredom, and how that was a bad sign. Yeah, here I looked at my watch at the six-minute mark. This is not a joke for emphasis – this movie started at 7:13 and I looked at my watch at 7:19, and gutturally moaned in terror. No one enjoyed this movie. I didn’t, my brother didn’t, and while there were a few laughs from the kids in attendance early on, those died down the longer the movie left. I actually think I saw a few kids still numb on my way out. Those poor children will never know joy again in their lifetimes, and it’s all because their parents were too lazy to parent for 86 minutes, let alone go to the video store to rent literally anything else. If you can’t find a way to entertain f*cking children, who will literally laugh at anything and are responsible for five Ice Age movies, four movies about Minions, and three Cars films, then you have failed on every fathomable level.
There’s a talented cast in this movie, but outside of Ross as the Internet Troll and Coolidge and Wright as the Mehs, none of them are worth the time or effort it would take to see this film. I think T.J. Miller is one of the funniest comedians working nowadays, but if this is the reason that he quit Silicon Valley, he doesn’t deserve to be famous, and he should be checked into rehab. His Gene is the second most unlikable character in this movie, right behind Corden as High-Five. Imagine if Eddie Murphy had played Donkey as a douchebag Lax bro. Would you want to hang out with him? Would you love him and nominated him for a BAFTA? No you would not, and Corden should have realized that before making every wrong choice in this role. Anna Faris is one of my favorite comedians, and she should be thankful that her voice is almost unrecognizable in this film. I didn’t realize it was her until the credits, and I’m kind of grateful for that. And Maya Rudolph is almost tolerable as Smiler, but you never get to know her enough to enjoy her work as a villain. As for the “cameos” you’ve heard about, they aren’t funny enough or long enough to make a difference. As mentioned before, Stewart’s only line is to say “We’re Number Two!” multiple times, and it’s not as funny as it sounds. Sean Hayes plays the Devil, and there’s not enough to it to warrant anything beyond a response of “Does this movie think Sean Hayes is still relevant?” Sofía Vergara plays the dancing girl, and while this feels accurate, she never speaks enough to make it clear who is even playing the role. I could have played that role and there would be no difference. And Christina Aguilera shows up briefly as the leader of a Just Dance app, and I can promise you that no scene this year will be as dumb or as awful as that scene in this movie. Every single person in this movie should fire their agent, effective immediately.
The final blow for this movie actually comes a full minute before it even begins, when the fairly average Hotel Transylvania short ends up being better than the movie. That’s the world we live in, folks – the one where the three minute short that comes before the film has more time and effort put into it than the actual film. There’s no better way to describe this film than to say I hated it to its core. It’s rarely funny, never original, looks terrible, and is all around a bad experience. At least with the worst film of last year, Norm of the North, it wasn’t supposed to be released in theaters, and they gave it a death slot to take their write-off. This is a summer release-Sony is trying to make this a thing, and spent millions of dollars creating for children the artistic form of arsenic. Shame on you, Sony, this is an embarrassment on your company and on us as the human race.