Netflix UK film review: The Emoji Movie
Poorly conceived plot3
Appalling product placement1
Hint of subversion5
Matthew Turner | On 11, Dec 2017Reading time: 3 mins
Director: Tony Leondis
Cast: T.J. Miller, James Corden, Anna Faris, Maya Rudolph, Steven Wright, Jennifer Coolidge, Patrick Stewart
Watch The Emoji Movie online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Following the roaring success of The LEGO Movie, The Emoji Movie must have seemed like a good idea on paper. After all, imagined animated worlds populated with characters we recognise (whether it’s toys, cars, animals or monsters) have proven box-office potential. Unfortunately, however, no one seems to have put any thought into this particular world beyond the idea of a movie with emojis in it.
The concept runs into problems almost immediately, because it’s needlessly convoluted. In the colourful world of Textopolis (located inside our phones), various emojis are assigned to a game show-like platform, where they wait for their specialised emotion to be scanned and sent to the text screen when the phone’s user is sending a message. One such emoji is Gene (a miscast T.J. Miller), who has too much enthusiasm to be the ‘Meh’ emoji he’s supposed to be.
After he fails to maintain his ‘Meh’ expression during scanning, Gene is deemed to be faulty and is marked for deletion by sinister boss Smiler (Maya Rudolph). However, punky hacker Jailbreak (Anna Faris) tells him that he can be reprogrammed if he can just reach the Cloud, so Gene heads off to change his fate, accompanied by his over-excited friend, Hi-5 (James Corden, perpetually irritating and therefore perfectly cast).
However, Gene’s quest is just an excuse for a deluge of product placement, since, in order to reach the Cloud, Gene, Hi-5 and Jailbreak have to navigate a series of apps, including Spotify, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Candy Crush, Dance Dance Party and, um, Dropbox. That might have been fine if the writers had come up with anything even remotely funny for each app, but instead it just feels like blatant name-checking (“Whoa – so this is Spotify!”, etc).
That absence of thought and imagination is apparent throughout. How else to explain the fact that the film tries to push a “just be yourself” message with characters that only have one emotion?
It gets worse. Occasionally, the film cuts to the real world and we check in with the owner of the phone, high-school freshman Alex (Jake T. Austin), who wants to text his class crush, Addie (Tati Gabrielle), but can’t find the right emoji, actual words having been deemed uncool by his best friend. This is followed by the film’s stupidest moment (against fierce competition), when he finally sends an emoji and Addie coos “I like a boy who isn’t afraid to express his emotions”. There are, literally, no words.
Perhaps the strangest thing about The Emoji Movie is that it’s a Sony movie that condones not only piracy, but hacking, jail-breaking and even the reading of deleted emails – indeed, the day is saved by a character doing just that, which seems utterly bizarre, coming from the studio that had to endure an embarrassing email hack in 2014. Those repeated ideas give the film an intriguing hint of subversion, which ultimately serves as the movie’s only point of interest, as you wonder how the writers got away with it.
Admittedly, there are one or two good jokes (a clever one involving the aubergine emoji and a silly one about emoticons), though both are likely to fly over the heads of the film’s target audience, most of whom will just gurgle happily at the pretty colours. For everyone over the age of five, however, this is a poorly conceived and desperately unfunny animated comedy that can be summed up by the emoji of its main character: Meh.
The Emoji Movie is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.