It's an idea that was practically laughed off the moment it was announced. A movie based on emojis from our cellphones. And yet, The Emoji Movie almost proves its detractors wrong. The film is given the building blocks for what could have been a serviceable, but not terribly exciting film, and that would have been victory enough. At least, that was until they wrote a joke. Then another joke. Followed by a multitude of jokes, all of which were allowed to be kept in the film. Naturally, with so many jokes, something had to be tossed out, and indeed it was. Unfortunately for our sake, that something was called "the story."
Gene (T.J. Miller) is a Meh in the emoji set of a young boy's phone. This changes pretty fast, as he is fired after only his first day on the job, due to his inability to hold a Meh face for too long. What started as a mistake turns into an adventure, as our young emoji teams up with fellow expressive Hi-5 (James Corden) in order to find Jailbreak (Anna Faris), the elusive icon that could fix everything.
There's a part of me that goes into films like The Emoji Movie hoping that the marketing campaign's rather lackluster ads are an inaccurate representation of the film I'll eventually watch. Sometimes, it works. This movie isn't one of those times. In fact, the film manages to sink below the level of expectation set in those advertisements. At every turn, the material doesn't resist an opportunity for an easy joke, stringing a lot of little payoffs in a row without any setup throughout the film. Though when it does attempt a story, it's pretty much paint-by-numbers platitudes without any sort of narrative drive behind it.
But the greatest crime The Emoji Movie commits is the fact that its characters are exceedingly boring. Even with a blink-and-you'll-miss-them lineup of notable celebrity voices, there's no depths to these figures other than the emoji they represent. If our main character, as well as they world they inhabit, was written better, this might have worked. But without any sort of perceived movement or growth throughout the running time of the film, these static gags just serve to annoy.
During the standard moment in which it looks like the world of the Emoji is going to be wiped out for good, you don't even feel any empathy or sadness for these characters facing their demise. Also, this lack of character extends to the human side of the equation as well, as the story of our "user" trying to romance a girl, despite his supposedly error-prone phone, doesn't add the urgency it's trying to impart on The Emoji Movie's story. Its resolution is even more ridiculous.
Going back to the subject of advertisements, this movie is full of plugs and name drops of various apps you'd experience on your phone, and it's not subtle. If these moments were woven into the fabric of a proper story, they could have been called gratuitous at best. But in the context of The Emoji Movie, it's a jarring experience that makes you feel like you're playing on your phone, rather than watching a movie.
I was really hoping The Emoji Movie would work. Considering how much it wants to be Wreck-It Ralph, or even Tron, this film merely reminds you that these better films exist, and have handled similar subject matter in a much more superior form. Come to think of it, this film feels like an extremely watered down, and much more crass, version of Ralph, as Gene fails to reach the heights that Ralph's character did during his hero's quest.
It's hard to tell if your kids will like The Emoji Movie, as it's not a film that really reaches for the youngest of its demographic, and the tweens this film is aimed at will probably see themselves as above this sort of thing. That leaves the parents to be entertained, and that's just a bridge too far to cross with this one. What could have been another example of a film rising above the cynicism that met its inception, The Emoji Movie turned out to be an even worse idea in execution than it did on paper. Its characters are weak, its story lame, and its purpose unclear. Do yourself a favor, and swipe left on this one.