Movie review: 'Emoji Movie' is merely meh

Fred Hawson

Posted at Aug 29 2017 01:03 PM

The films produced by Sony Pictures Animations never really came up to the quality of Disney-Pixar or Dreamworks in terms of artwork nor story. Their first output was "Open Season" (2006). Their biggest hit in the box office was "The Smurfs" (2011) which grossed $563.7 million. Their other noted films were "Surf's Up" (2007), "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" (2009) and "Hotel Transylvania" (2012). None of these films are considered classics by a long shot. I am not really expecting too much from this latest release of theirs.

"The Emoji Movie" is set inside the Emoji app loaded in the cellphone of a high school teenager named Alex. Rules say that emojis should only have one face to be consistent with the message the sender wanted to convey. However, there is this emoji named Gene, who was supposed to be the "Meh" emoji. However, he was able to express several other emoji faces, and he cannot control this ability yet. 

On his first day at work, Gene was so flustered when Alex chose to send him as a text to his crush Addie during a boring history class. Instead of "Meh," Gene was sent out as mixed-up confused face. The maniacal leader of the text center Smiler wanted to delete Gene as a malfunctioning emoji. However, along with his friend Hi-5, Gene sought out a code-breaker emoji named Jailbreak to fix his glitch. He needed to be fixed before Alex had his phone rebooted by the phone repair shop the next day.

The backlash against this movie was so extreme, I was really expecting the worst. The story of the outcast trying to prove himself worthy is very old, and this is yet another rehash of this trope. Setting the adventure within the apps of a mobile phone (Candy Crush, Just Dance, Instagram, Spotify, Dropbox) was interesting enough, though we had seen something like this set in the world of arcade games in Disney's "Wreck-It-Ralph" (2012). 

There was one character who had a look that I considered cute, and that was the open palm hand emoji called Hi-5. In terms of voice work, the consistently delightful James Corden gave Hi-5's a friendly, fuzzy and funny personality that lit up his scenes. Any scene with Hi-5 I enjoyed. There was a point midway in the film I thought Hi-5 might be a goner. Good thing the filmmakers had the sense to realize how losing him can cause the whole film to implode.

The names in the rest of the cast list voicing the various emojis were very impressive, namely T. J. Miller (as Gene), Anna Faris (as Jailbreak), Maya Rudolph (as Smiler), Steven Wright (as Mel Meh), Jennifer Coolidge (as Mary Meh), Christina Aguilera (as the girl in the Just Dance app), Sofía Vergara (as Flamenco dancer), Sean Hayes (as Devil emoji). However, the unremarkable voice work felt like they could have been done by anyone. Most disappointing that they had Patrick Stewart voice the Poop emoji, yet have nothing memorable at all for him to say. 

This shallow film is strictly for the kids, though I am not sure they would like it that much because of the so-so, even ugly, characters. Some of the technical stuff about apps and phones utilized in the script felt forced, not ingenious. To be fair, I do not think it is the complete trash that various critics made it out to be. Knowing some of the apps cited can be funny, but these moments are not too many, and nothing was really LOL funny. 

It was so appropriate that the lead character had to be a "Meh" emoji. Most of the artwork and voice work, most everything about it in fact, just felt so "Meh." 4/10

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."