The Emoji Movie may be meh, but it’s not evil

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - LIND­SEY BAHR

There are five stages of grief in pre­par­ing to watch “The Emoji Movie.” The first is de­nial that this ac­tu­ally ex­ists. The se­cond is anger that now even sto­ry­telling has been re­duced to those re­duc­tive blobs. The third is bar­gain­ing that, hey, they made “The Lego Movie” work against all odds so maybe some smart folks ac­tu­ally pulled this off. The fourth is de­pres­sion that all movies ideas are just doomed to con­fuse “brands” for “ideas.” And the fifth is ac­cep­tance that, yes, of course that’s where we’re headed so let’s pull up a seat and make the most of it.

The good news is “The Emoji Movie,” co-writ­ten and directed by Tony Leondis, is not evil. The bad news is it’s just medi­ocre, or in emoji par­lance, sim­ply “meh.”

It does not come close to achiev­ing the joy and won­der of, say, “Toy Story,” “In­side Out” or “The Lego Movie” although it ap­pears to bor­row heav­ily from all in its cen­tral con­ceit that an­thro­po­mor­phized emo­jis have fam­i­lies and am­bi­tions but also ex­ist solely to serve a par­tic­u­lar smart­phone owner. “The Emoji Movie” takes us into the world of Alex’s phone — he’s an awk­ward high school fresh­man who is stressed out about what to text the girl he has a crush on. His friend ad­vises him that “words are stupid” so he goes for a good old emoji.

Lit­tle does he know in the emoji app it’s Gene’s first day of work. Gene (T.J. Miller) is sup­posed to be the “meh” sym­bol, but the ex­citable yel­low blob al­ter­nates be­tween all emo­tions and can’t stick to the one he’s sup­posed to have, like his par­ents Mary Meh ( Jen­nifer Coolidge) and Mel Meh (Steven Wright). Also, should we be think­ing about the im­pli­ca­tions of ag­ing and pro­cre­at­ing emo­jis? Prob­a­bly not, but it’s still a par­tic­u­larly weird and un­com­fort­able idea.

Any­way, Gene is ba­si­cally the “Di­ver­gent” emoji, but there’s no choos­ing in this town and when he screws up his first time at bat, the sin­is­ter Smiler (Maya Ru­dolph) de­cides he’s a mal­func­tion and must be deleted. Sud­denly Gene is on the run, and hooks up with the past-his-prime Hi-5 ( James Cor­den) and a hacker emoji Jail­break (Anna Faris) to try to get into the cloud where they might fix him.

If you’re wor­ried about whether or not this is some big smart­phone ad­ver­tise­ment, it only kind of is. There’s a whole jour­ney through the Spo­tify app, and they have to get through a dance com­pe­ti­tion in the Just Dance app to get where they’re go­ing, and there is a line that seems to have been writ­ten by mar­ket­ing folks about how il­le­gal mal­ware can’t get into the pro­tected Drop­Box app.

Gene might not be much, but Jail­break is ac­tu­ally a de­cently con­ceived char­ac­ter — per­haps be­cause she’s not con­strained to be­ing an emoji. It’s ac­tu­ally kind of a metaphor for the movie which shines when it just runs with an idea and not brand-ser­vice.

It’s pretty in­of­fen­sive on the whole. It doesn’t dare go to the depths that a Pixar ren­der­ing might, or lean very f ar into meta­clev­er­ness. In­stead it stays sur­face level and in that way feels very, very young. It’s about be­ing your­self and the im­por­tance of friends and, heck, it’s only 86 min­utes long.

Also, the poop jokes are min­i­mal.


Jail­break (voiced by Anna Faris), Gene (T.J. Miller) and Hi-5 (James Cor­den) in "The Emoji Movie."

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