‘The world we live in. It’s so
wondrous insipid, mysterious terrifying, even magical disturbing…’
Before suffering an experience of The Emoji Movie, Sony Pictures Animation take a moment to remind audiences of the inspiring back-catalogue they have created in their fifteen years of existence with a Hotel Transylvania short called Puppy. To put this into context, Pixar preceded Inside Out with the gorgeous Lava and Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph came with a side order of the groundbreaking Paperman. You can set your own bar.
The plot of this tediously commercial operation in marketing revolves around the hidden world of the emojis in your smartphone. From Smiler to Poop, the emojis live in the bustling city of Textopolis (give me strength…), each waiting for their expressionist icon to be selected for use. An outsider in this city of one-note characters (/performances), Gene (T. J. Miller) is an emoji with no filter and so offers a multitude of expressions. Sick of feeling isolated and being treated as a malfunction, Gene just wants to be a normal emoji like everyone else; so, recruiting the aid of Hi-5 (James Corden) and Jailbreak (Anna Faris), he sets out to find the hacking code that will ‘fix’ him.
Following the pre-production trail of thought from The Emoji Movie’s director, Tony Leondis, it is just about possible to make out in the film’s concept a feeling for a story really rather personal. Though making no attempts to hide the fact that the film came out of a misguided desire to update the themes of Toy Story, it is Leondis’ experience of growing up gay that powered in him the notion of a film in which difference is seen as both isolating and threatening. This is not that film. That film might be Inside Out or Wreck-It Ralph or any number of a gazillion others.
Quite how one of the least original films of all time could possibly consider declaring itself to be a champion of individuality is wholly unfathomable. Not content with cherry-picking the best of other works, both live-action and animated, The Emoji Movie devotes its time towards fuelling a promotion of the joyful smartphone industry directly at young viewers/customers. Towards the start of the film smartphones are described providing ‘services so necessary, so crucial, so unbelievably profound…’ and it is genuinely impossible to say whether this is meant to be a satirical comment on iPhone addiction across the modern world.
For a depressingly long time, Leondis’ script, co-crafted with Eric Siegel and Mike White, reels through a series of app-vertisements – presumably those that could afford a time slot – flogging the smartphone experience for all it’s worth. One extended Just Dance sequence threatens to never end, pummelling the screen with repetitive attempts at delivering the same, painfully unfunny joke. It’s unbelievably dull. Further still, surely none among the intended audience will understand tech-heavy references to firewalls and malware; certainly those who do won’t care.
Scattered throughout are hints of a feeble attempt to make profound comments on everything from feminism to originality but each is dumped on the sequence of events masquerading as a plot with such little care or meaning that they just aid the establishment of the film’s malaising void.
When your one saving grace is an uplifting turn by Sir Patrick Stewart, playing excrement (‘You’re too soft Poop.’, ‘Not too soft I hope!’), you know you’ve missed the mark and the X-Men star has truly hit the fan.