Let’s be perfectly honest for a second: You aren’t reading this review because you question whether “The Emoji Movie” is comparable to the likes of summer titans like “Baby Driver” or “Dunkirk.” You’re reading this either to giggle at how utterly terrible the film is or to see whether it’s worth watching ironically. “The Emoji Movie” lives up to its beautiful 8 percent on Rotten Tomatoes but I still found myself deriving some sort of sadistic pleasure in watching the film writhe in its own pathetic capitalist vomit.
The film’s premise is so utterly bizarre that it makes “The Bee Movie” seem like a documentary. Within the smartphone of a teenager named Alex (voiced by Jake T. Austin) exists a society of sentient emojis that live for the sole purpose of allowing the messaging app on the phone to function. Each emoji is confined to one emotion from birth. A defective “Meh” emoji named Gene (voiced by T.J. Miller) appears as an emoji that is not a “Meh” in one of Alex’s texts, committing the ultimate taboo in emoji society, which leads Alex to believe that his phone is dysfunctional. As a result, Gene is ostracized from his fellow citizens of Textopolis and seeks out Jailbreak (voiced by Anna Faris), a hacker that can remedy his problems.
In order to eventually reach Dropbox — a sort of Elysium for our threesome of protagonists — Gene must make his way through various apps. At this point in the film, you can witness the filthy byproducts of late capitalism in all of its glory, which is hard to ignore if you have the cognitive ability of a 12-year-old.
The most loathsome example in the entire film takes place near its end. In order to escape killer anti-virus robots chasing down our heroes, they jump into Dropbox intentionally, slowly and clearly stating that “this app is secure.” To a child, that is an innocuous justification. To anyone older than 18, it is the financial might of a company influencing the elastic minds of children, using its large corporate fist to sully their pure souls. A child’s freedom is robbed unknowingly by the subliminal messages of this 91-minute advertisement, and they become naught but puppets, with large companies like Dropbox and Facebook cackling as they clench the marionette.
For further clarification, I redirect you to my bucket of popcorn, which suffered a fatal blow as I bludgeoned it in anger when a Twitter bird appeared near the end of the film. I suffered a similar bout of rage when social media app WeChat inexplicably appeared on the American teenager’s phone. Sony has sacrificed any of the plot’s sanctity for a few bucks. Rather than an organic world with real incentive behind plot points, “The Emoji Movie” just feels like a tour through a smartphone to show off some apps.
Most of the characters are dry and uninteresting, the exception being a hand emoji called Hi-5 (voiced by James Corden). While irritating for this pretentious 19-year-old viewer, his exaggerated humor is funny for a child. This is great for parents, who can proceed to stab their eyes with pins while their kids laugh at the repeated jokes about Hi-5 not having hands while being, in fact, a hand. Gene — while not a particularly bad character —is made infinitely more annoying by his liberal yet inconsistent use of the word “hashtag” in front of various adjectives. And there is nothing special about him that makes him a particularly likeable protagonist.
Gene’s parents (voiced by Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge) do nothing to catalyze the plot except fill a few minutes of screentime, in which they have a long, pointless debate on their marriage within the Instagram app, just so that Instagram can get the exposure for which they must have paid millions for.
Those characters were also included so that director Tony Leondis could create several minutes of dialogue done in an intentionally bored voice for a funny gag. Although that dialogue is less funny the umpteenth time, it at least gives you a few more minutes to gouge out your eyes while your kids laugh. Jokes aside, those meaningless moments throughout the film build up to make it the cesspool of second-rate slop that it is.
There are numerous flaws in “The Emoji Movie,” from the dodgy dialogue to the irritating soundtrack, which sounds like the director couldn’t hire a real music team and just used his personal Spotify playlist and hoped for the best.
But despite the cornucopia of crap that composes the film, I left that cinema feeling mildly entertained. Occasionally, the humor is genuinely funny, and while the animation style is not nearly the same quality as that of Pixar’s, it’s still perfectly fine. Even if I used my popcorn bucket as a punching bag, I did not feel bored in the theater, although perhaps boredom is more savory than sheer rage. This is not to say the film is good at all by any means, but akin to the likes of “The Room” or “Foodfight!”, it becomes rather amusing when you laugh at it rather than with it.
Given the incredible quality of most every Pixar film, I only hope that Sony takes the universally negative reception of “The Emoji Movie” to heart and improves from here on out.