I didn’t really want to review The Emoji Movie, because reviewing it meant watching it, and watching it meant a) supporting Sony to make more of this kind of film in the future, and b) spending 2 hours of my life watching a kids film about emoji. And then a good friend of mine (@thesoulminded (check him out, his stuff is great)) tweeted this ‘Dear Grown Ass Adults watching the Emoji Movie and complaining on the news. Stop. No one told you to watch a movie for kids.’ To me, this is a real miscalculation about why people don’t like the Emoji Movie. It’s not so much that they’re upset that it’s bad; clearly a film based on Emoji wasn’t going to revolutionise the world.[1] The problem is more this; The Emoji Movie is the kind of movie a bad guy in a children’s cartoon would make; it’s cynical, manipulative, contradictory and frankly terrible for its target market.

The Emoji Movie centres on the life of an emoji named Gene, who is a ‘Meh’ emoji; a malfunction means that he can express different emotions, so he tries to get this fixed with the help of a hacker named Jailbreak, and a High-Five emoji named… uhh.. Hi-5. As you can imagine, the film ends with him realising it’s fine to express himself in ways other than ‘meh’. To be frank, the plot of this film is fine; standard unimaginative crap, but fine nonetheless. Where the problems start to appear is everything around the plot. For example; the film is so deprived of original ideas that it steals from just about everywhere, most notably the 2015 Pixar film Inside Out (which, not coincidentally had just come out when this film was commissioned.) In that film, the main characters, who represent emotions, travel inside the mind of a teenage girl as she struggles with a family crisis and the onset of puberty. Because it’s structured inside the mind, many of the inventive worlds etc make sense; her ‘control room’ is her brain where memories are kept, while the islands the main characters travel around depict facets of her personality. In the Emoji Movie, the action takes place within the phone of a teenage boy. The emoji all line up within a grid and there are selected, at which point they’re scanned and have to pull the face they represent. At one point within the movie, the scanning is implied to feel akin to an orgasm. The process is amazingly and stupidly complex, and it just goes to show how hard the writers must have had to work in order to create what must have been pitched ‘Inside Out with Emoji’. The internal logic of this film is all messed up anyway; trolls are reduced from actual harassers to a kind of computer virus installed on your phone, ridding them of any serious presence, despite the actual threat they pose to many young people on the internet. Youtube is also on here; showing actual videos like Pen Pineapple Apple Pen (hey, remember that?), even though the film takes place in an animated universe.

Instead of travelling through facets of personality as in Inside Out, the Emoji travel through iPhone apps. This is not used as a way to explore what the apps on the phone of a teenage boy tell us about his personality; instead, it’s used as a way to sell apps to us. Sure, “Grown Ass Adults” may be able to shrug this off, but lest we forget that this film is targeted towards the more gullible. The Just Dance app (advertised in the film) has subscription packs up to £18.99, as well as Coin packs up to £4.99. WeChat, a Chinese messaging app hoping to spread its influence overseas, has sticker packs advertised in the film, costing £0.99 each. I needn’t mention Candy Crush’s infamous In App Purchases, but needless to say, they can be costly. Dropbox, which is inexplicably advertised in a film targeted to children around the age of 8, has a ‘Dropbox Plus’ subscription service that costs £79.99 per year. Spotify Premium can go up to £17.99 a month. Apps such as Facebook and Instagram have both age limits of 13 (by which point most children would be too embarrassed to go and see this film), and are inundated with targeted advertisements. The Emoji Movie goes out of its way to advertise these apps without putting them in much story context at all. It’s simply an advertisement selling children apps. Well, you might say, so was the Lego Movie, and you love that film. Sure – that’s fair enough. So let’s talk about the other problem with the Emoji Movie; everything else.


The Lego Movie has a pretty good message to do with creativity. The Emoji Movie has a message about being yourself and not sticking to one single emotion. TJ Miller portrays the ‘meh’ emoji, who is supposed to be a bundle of different emoji forced by a cruel society to portray one face for the rest of his life. In reality, he’s as one-note as the rest; that note just happens to be white bread enthusiasm. In the end, he debuts as a brand new shapeshifting emoji, but none of the other emoji ever get to express themselves; TJ Miller is the only one special enough to express himself. Even Jailbreak, the hacker who doesn’t want to be a princess and so disguises herself, ends up by the end of the film having shed her hacker persona. She isn’t allowed to be herself; only he is. Speaking of Jailbreak, the film would love to see itself as spreading a feminism message, and while it’s true that it pays lip service to these ideas by having her reject her role as princess… by the end of the film she’s sacrificing her dream to follow some guy she only just met into certain death. So yay feminism!

Ugh I don’t really know. I could go on with all of the dumb shit this film does; that Patrick Stewart is used for a couple of poop jokes and a Star Trek reference; that the best emoji (pager) never shows up; that the film somehow made James Corden even more annoying than he already is; that the line ‘throw some sauce on that dance burrito’ is spoken by someone who starred in the amazing comedy show Silicon Valley; that the confession of love from the teenage boy to his crush ends with a line from Rihanna’s song Diamonds and that this is played as an emotional moment… but I’m not even that angry at the film. It’s stupid and dumb, and mildly evil… but I am angry at anyone who tries to just say ‘ah, lay off it – it’s just a kids film’. Because that presupposes that kids films shouldn’t be great; that the hundreds of people who worked on the Emoji Movie don’t deserve proper criticism for their hard work; that we should be fine with this sort of cynical advertisement to young people that insults their intelligence and sells them a confused moral message and a bunch of shit apps. Fuck that.

My next proper review is coming in a few days, but just had to jump on that emoji movie trend uhhh… get my important point across. 

[1]  That said, a film about Lego did end up being one of the best animated movies in a long while sooo…


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