These days there seem to be two types of animated movie: one is a story-driven adventure with a strong emotional hook; the other a frenetic and calculated cash-in that ticks off a checklist of ingredients supposedly appealing to children. The Emoji Movie falls squarely in the latter category.

To be fair, this comedy adventure from Sony Pictures Animation (the same studio behind Hotel Transylvania, The Smurfs and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs) isn’t technically bad. It’s just that it feels like a poor copy of a half dozen vastly superior animated movies – of the first type already mentioned. Watching The Emoji Movie, it’s impossible not to think of Wreck-It Ralph, Inside Out and The Lego Movie. Except all of those releases are way smarter and far more satisfying than this superficial effort.

Critics laid into The Emoji Movie on release, presumably because it’s a movie centred on smartphone emojis. However, the concept is one of the strongest aspects of the film, allowing for jabs at our social media usage, and a few clever sight gags. The real problem is that The Emoji Movie feels so painfully painted-by-numbers. It’s like its entire creative process was dictated by boardroom committee.

“Kids like cheerful, energetic music numbers, right?”
“Make sure there are several in there. And more in the DVD Special Features.”
“What about an overarching message stressing how you need to be yourself even if you don’t fit in?”
“Sure thing. Stuffing it in now.”
“How about a feisty and accomplished female character who falls for the underwhelming main character?”
“Of course. People lap that up.”

If you care, the basic premise for The Emoji Movie is that every smartphone app is its own world. In an unnamed chat programme, our hero Gene (T.J. Miller) is a meh emoji about to start his first day on the job. Gene’s problem is that he can’t sit in a box all day and act indifferent. He’s too expressive. Shamed by his oddity, he and Hi-5 (James Corden), a once-favourite emoji, venture out from their app to find legendary hacker Jailbreak (Anna Faris), who can apparently recode them.

There’s a villain after our heroes, of course, and some bizarre subplot about Gene’s parents but it doesn’t really matter. Everything is just a list of expected elements to be crossed off. For example, once Gene meets Jailbreak, within ten minutes they’re staring lovingly into each other’s eyes. There’s no development of their relationship. They barely talk. Yet suddenly they’re together… just because, I guess. The need to safely satisfy expectation trumps all from the filmmaking side, and the audience is supposed to receive most of their viewing pleasure from recognising the emojis and apps referenced in the film.

Now it won’t kill you to watch The Emoji Movie. When the credits roll, you don’t feel ick like you probably would have with Sausage Party, another relatively recent and reviled animated film. The Emoji Movie is just mindless inanity. As a home release, it’s also loaded with special features, including more interactive song-and-dance numbers, a backstory for Jailbreak chopped from the movie (naturally), director and cast commentary, and even a pro-STEM Girls Who Code segment.

The Emoji Movie doesn’t skimp on anything, except heart. And that is the primary reason the film is a failure – because it feels like a calculated marketing exercise from start to finish. The Emoji Movie makes zero effort to say anything meaningful because evidently slick and “fun” is good enough when it comes to family entertainment. Sorry, Sony, it isn’t.

Last Updated: January 31, 2018

The Emoji Movie
There are worse animated movies than The Emoji Movie, but there are far FAR better ones too. Rather watch The Lego Movie, Inside Out and Wreck-It Ralph for the tenth time than this soulless crib job.

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