Look, I Think We Can All Acknowledge That Society Is Crumbling: A Half-Coherent 'Emoji Movie' Review
No matter how bad you expected The Emoji Movie to be, believe me when I tell you, from the bottom of my heart, that it is so much worse.
Take a moment.
The LEGO Movie, Inside Out, and Wreck-It Ralph are animated movies that took a high concept—what if LEGOs, personified emotions, and video game characters really existed in their own complex worlds—and tackled them with thoughtfulness and internal consistency. The Emoji Movie faceplants on that bandwagon with all the grace and intelligence of a walrus hopped up on meth. It puts less effort into world-building and developing halfway interesting themes and characters than it does into crafting defecation puns for Patrick Stewart. And that amount of effort was already pretty goddamn low. Patrick Stewart, as the poop emoji, doesn’t have all that big of a role here, but a good 75 percent of his dialogue is some form of half-baked, shit-based wordplay. I love a good pun… emphasis on good. Patrick Stewart and his little shit baby chanting “We’re number two! We’re number two!” doesn’t exactly cut
the cheese it.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The world this movie is set in makes my head hurt, but I’m going to try to explain it to you all the same. Our hero, “meh” emoji Gene (TJ Miller), lives in the texting app, called Textopolis, of teenage boy Alex’s phone. Gene dreams of one day going into his “cube” and being an actual working emoji, but there’s a problem: he’s supposed to be “meh” all the time, but catch this, Gene has multiple different feelings. Whaaaaaaa????? That makes him Textopolis’ resident misfit… despite the fact that we’re told in the opening scene that face emojis have to put effort into maintaining one emotion all the time, so it makes no sense that Gene’s Divergent-ass “I contain multitudes” bullshit is all that rare or controversial ASHUIAFHGADUIHAYUDGAUYDGHS.
I’m OK. I’m OK.
Gene in fact does fuck up on his first day of work, sending him on the run from maniacal emoji dictator supreme Smiler, voiced by Maya Rudolph with a fabulously unhinged, passive aggressive, gleeful menace. Yeah, that’s right. I just said something good about The Emoji Movie. Thank God Rudolph, Jennifer Coolidge, and Steven Wright—the latter two deadpan as Gene’s “meh” parents—are here to hold down the voice acting fort, because James Corden, as Gene’s sidekick High Five, makes me want to somehow punch a hole through my own body. TJ Miller is irritating. You know that. You expected it. James Corden is somehow more irritating, the result of him playing the whiny, self-absorbed comic relief character against Miller’s relatively (relatively) more subdued Gene. Cordon says “Bye, Felicia” and “Oh, snap!” I don’t need that. No one does.
I’m going to take a break now to share with you some choice lines of dialogue from The Emoji Movie. There was actually a fair bit of laughter in my press screening, but about 3/4 of the way through I realized these were less “laughing with the movie” than disbelieving “oh my God, the movie actually thinks this works” chuckles. See if you can guess why:
“I gotta be mehhh.”
“The most important invention in the history of communication… EMOJIS.”
“Just doing my doody!”
“I’m not going to run away from this. I’M AN EMOJI.”
“You’re too soft, Poop.” / “Not too soft, I hope!”
“Throw some sauce on that dance burrito!” [Does this movie invent an emoji dance? Fuck yes it does.]
“What use is being number one if there aren’t any other numbers?” [This is repeated. I think the screenwriters thought it was deep.]
“Woooooooah. This is Spotify?!”
“Nobody knows the touchscreens I’ve seen. Nobody knows my screenshots.” [To the tune of “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”]
“Go read an ebook!”
I want you to pay particular attention to those last two quotes, because in The Emoji Movie, they are what count as humor and world-building. Suuuure, just throw in some references that aren’t really examined or engaged with in any way! It’s all you need to do. You’ll be fiiiiiine. DID NONE OF YOU ASSHOLES SEE ZOOTOPIA.
That last quote, the ebook one, belongs to Jailbreak (Anna Faris), and… hold on, this needs another gif.
Jailbreak is your stereotypical The Girl One, all ’90s grrl power slogans (“I’m not just some princess, Gene, waiting for my prince!”) and hypercompetent take no shit attitude. She’s the hacker Gene and High Five run to for help after Smiler sets her malware bots on the pair of them. Jailbreak, the plan goes, can get Gene and High Five off the phone and onto the Cloud, a paradise where Gene and High Five can be reprogrammed (Gene to be more “meh,” High Five to be more popular. How will that work? Who cares.) and Jailbreak can live free of Textopolis’ restrictive expectations. Getting to the Cloud takes the trio through a handful of other apps, among them Spotify, YouTube, Dropbox, Just Dance, and Candy Crush. (The reason they have to face the potential peril of going through the apps instead of going around them, which would be the easier course, is… IDK, gotta get that #branding. This whole movie is a cynical corporate ploy devoid of any creative spark, if you hadn’t gotten that yet.)
It’s a dangerous journey, but Jailbreak leads them safely through, because… she has blue hair, guys. She’s a hacker. She’s cool. Not like the other girls at all. She’s a feminist icon, even.
Wait for it… wait for it… boom, there it is. Trinity Syndrome.
For the unfamiliar, Trinity Syndrome, named after Trinity in The Matrix, is a narrative trope whereby a female supporting character is introduced as the Most Competent, the Most Cool, and just all-around better than the dork-ass main character, because a movie’s gotta score those representation points. But then, by the end of the movie, she’s been narratively sidelined in favor of said (male) mediocre main character, who bogarts her glory and more often than not wins her heart besides. It’s Hope van Dyne in Ant-Man and Tauriel in the Hobbit movies (Evangeline Lilly, we’ve done you wrong) and too many other female characters to count. The Emoji Movie is so lacking in self-awareness that it has a fiery Jailbreak bemoaning that men frequently take credit for women’s achievements… only for, surprise surprise, Gene to swoop in and save the day less than an hour later, the denizens of Textopolis rapturously cheering for him (and only him) despite the fact that he really didn’t do all that much.
And, look, I really don’t expect The Emoji Movie to be nuanced on the gender front. But if it’s actively catering to young girls, as it is with the Jailbreak character, is it too much to ask that the message it tells them not be actively shitty? On top of that, The Emoji Movie isn’t even enjoyable. It’s not funny. It gives us nothing new. Not every animated movie has to be a Zootopia or a Toy Story 3. But The Emoji Movie isn’t even semi-enjoyable fluff like Minions, which was stupid but at least had enough good gags that you wouldn’t want to tear your hair out if you had to take a kid to it. It’s paint-by-numbers, lazy bullshit that has all the “required” elements of its sort of film—pop culture references, a “be yourself” message, and poop jokes—done in an uninspired way that evinces complete and utter contempt for its audience.
I had to see this. You don’t. Free yourself.
*Credit to this title goes to Tori, who captured my thoughts perfectly when I was still shell shocked from having seen this movie.
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