The Emoji Movie

When a malfunctioning emoji by the name of Gene is threatened with deletion, he’ll venture off into the unknown in the hope of getting himself reprogrammed…in The Emoji Movie.


Directed and co-written by Tony Leonidas, the plain truth about The Emoji Movie is that it is one of the most cynical and insulting movies–animated or otherwise–ever released.

In a world where, as of the writing of this review, there are already five live-action Transformers movies and several Lego movies, The Emoji Movie somehow has even more shameless, lazy product placement. Worse, it doesn’t even attempt to hide its not-so secret identity as a commercial for a number of services or games, such as Dropbox, Spotify, or Candy Crush.

There are two major stories and a number of minor ones mixed into the whole thing, but none of it ultimately matters. Nor is it likely anyone watching the movie will care about any of it.

And it’s not as if there isn’t material worth mining in whatever passed for this film’s script. There’s a cute little story of a young man struggling to find the courage and just the right way to speak with a pretty girl. There’s multiple similar threads about identity and finding one’s place in the world, of rejecting the roles society forces on us and embracing who we really are inside. The Emoji Movie is surprisingly ripe with great ideas that could have truly resonated with audiences in the same way as 2014’s The Lego Movie, another film every bit as earnest and successful in its storytelling as it is in its blatant product placement.

But it doesn’t seem as if Leonidas or anyone else involved with the making of the movie genuinely cared about what they were making and selling tickets for. There are simply far too many serious issues with the film for anyone to have worked on it, edited it, and viewed it and thought it was worth anyone’s money. There’s no attempt at logic or reason in any corner of the movie, meaning things–plot beats, attempts at jokes, emotional arcs–happen for no reason. Worse, the movie will actually stop itself to spell everything out. And it’s not that anything is difficult to follow or understand. Instead, it’s a matter of the movie simply refusing to actually show anything that would make us care for fear of wasting valuable ad space.


One glaring example of this is actually the main plot thread of the movie–Gene’s malfunction that allows him to express more than a singular emotion.

The point is constantly hammered home that emojis are programmed with a singular purpose in life, be it to express one face, thought, or anything else. Perhaps this is a happy face, a Christmas tree, or, as in the case of Gene, an unimpressed “Meh.” We’re told that Gene’s journey is spurred by the other emojis rejecting Gene’s more emotive nature and his perceived refusal to properly integrate himself in his singular role for life. But nearly every emoji we meet is either an outcast looking for their place in the world or looking to somehow change their place in it. Nobody is as they’re supposedly programmed to be.

So why then is Gene special in any way? Why are we watching his story play out in any way? He’s forced on this journey because the script demands it. As does everything else that gives the movie any semblance of structure or purpose or direction.


And for as much as the movie refuses to stop telling us answers to questions we never asked, it never answers any of the questions it presents to us.

Why are the emojis presented as sentient beings that seem to know about and care about the young boy who owns the phone they exist within when the movie isn’t some Toy Story-esque tale of love and attachment? Why are these entirely artificial, digital creatures given wholly biological qualities, such as the ability and desire to procreate or even eat? How or why would there be protocols to delete a malfunctioning emoji without the phone’s user being directly involved or even aware it’s happening? Why did nobody involved with the movie understand how technology works or how children use phones these days?

There are so many legitimately interesting questions presented, such as how does free will exist in a world where every single entity is literally programmed by some literal creator with an implicit purpose for their existence? And yet The Emoji Movie isn’t interested in anything other than being a billboard for whatever bit of software cut the biggest check. To hell with any pretense this movie was intended to serve as entertainment. This is a nearly ninety-minute commercial people paid to sit through with either their hard-earned money or nonrefundable time.

It’s mostly true that nobody ever sets out to make a bad movie. But it might be safe to say that everyone involved with The Emoji Movie did it for the money and with little care about the final product, for better or for worse.

The Emoji Movie isn’t a movie for anyone. It isn’t a movie with a point or message. It exists as a grotesque monument to laziness, greed, and pride. And because of this–and much more–The Emoji Movie is also a NO CHILL.

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