“The Emoji Movie” is just meh

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Katie Walsh

★555 Rated PG. 86 min­utes.

“Words aren’t cool,” is the courtship ad­vice im­parted by one tex­ting teen to an­other in “The Emoji Movie.”

That state­ment is the ca­nary in the coal mine that “Cyrano de Berg­erac” this movie is most de­cid­edly not.

Will Alex (Jake T. Austin) choose the right emoji to ex­press his ar­dor for Ad­die (Tati Gabrielle)? Or will “meh” emoji Gene (T.J. Miller) mess it all up for him? Per­haps we should just throw our smart phones into the sea and let the waves take us now.

“The Emoji Movie” is an easy, cheap tar­get for abuse. The mar­ket­ing cam­paign has cen­tered around a choco­latey brown youknow-what named “Poop” (voiced by Sir Pa­trick Ste­wart), adorn­ing our bus shel­ters and bill­boards, for cry­ing out loud. If we are trolled in this way, the only an­swer is to troll right back. And the truth is that “The Emoji Movie” is ex­actly what you ex­pect: There’s no need to wait and see if it sur­prises, if maybe it’s po­ten­tially great. Nope, it’s a per­fect re­flec­tion of its main char­ac­ter — meh.

If you were to imag­ine the story told by “The Emoji Movie,” it’s likely this would be the one you’d dream up. It’s just that ob­vi­ous. When mal­func­tion­ing “meh” emoji Gene starts a glitch in Alex’s phone, he goes on an odyssey from app to app, hop­ing to re­pro­gram him­self to only ex­press one emo­tion, the way emo­jis should.

But, of course, what makes him dif­fer­ent, his “mal­func­tion,” is what makes him unique. On his jour­ney, he makes new friends, falls in love, learns to ac­cept him­self, and man­ages to be­come a new, more evolved emoji, ex­press­ing a mul­ti­tude of emo­tions at once.

Di­rec­tor Tony Leondis co-wrote the script along with Eric Siegel, and sur­pris­ingly, Mike White (“School of Rock”) is also cred­ited. But for a film that wants to imag­ine the world in­side smart phones, this story just feels so unimag­i­na­tive and low-stakes.

It’s tied too closely to the way we use smart phones to cre­ate a trans­port­ing, wild new world. Ev­ery step of the jour­ney is to pre­vent Alex from restor­ing the phone to fac­tory set­tings, de­stroy­ing the world of Texto-po­lis, where emo­jis live. But there’s no ex­pla­na­tion as to why the emo­jis can’t just come back, if it’s all dig­i­tal de­tri­tus. There­fore, it’s hard to care at all about whether or not Gene can con­sis­tently make a “meh” face and if he’ll be eaten by anti-virus bots.

There aren’t any real jokes, and most laughs come from app recog­ni­tion: Candy Crush, the Twit­ter bird, and look, now they’re tak­ing a row boat on the “mu­sic streams” of Spo­tify. It’s truly just “In­tel­lec­tual Prop­erty: The Movie.” If we’re laugh­ing at sim­ple brand recog­ni­tion, then yes, it’s true, words aren’t cool any­more, and smart phones have made us dumb.

“The Emoji Movie” isn’t ter­ri­ble, it isn’t of­fen­sive or out­right bad. It just is, and there could be far worse ways to spend 86 min­utes. But maybe, just maybe, it’d be the bet­ter choice to spend those 86 min­utes out­side, or read­ing a book, or talk­ing to an­other hu­man be­ing’s face. Be­cause “The Emoji Movie” could not be more meh.

Sony Pic­tures An­i­ma­tion

Gene, voiced by T.J. Miller, cen­ter, in “The Emoji Movie.”

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