What is there to be said about The Emoji Movie? That’s what I have been asking myself for the more than an hour since I sat down to write this review. This empty, mostly competent, 90+ minute ad for smartphone apps doesn’t inspire much to be written about it. Sure, I could rail against the empty, soulless, mercenary nature of what amounts to app product placement the movie, but I have been shouting into that void since the trailer for the film hit and no one seemed to care then. So, let’s just start writing and see what happens.
The Emoji Movie centers around Gene (Voiced by T.J Miller), a professional "Meh" emoji on his first day on the job in Textopolis, a home for Emoji’s inside a teenager’s phone. Gene’s parents Mel and Mary Meh (Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge) aren’t sure Gene is ready for the job of expressing indifference because, unlike other Emojis in Textopolis, Gene is able to perform other Emoji functions beyond just being the face of Meh.
When Gene panics and ruins a text to a girl by making a funny face instead of Meh, he’s set to be deleted as if he were a virus. This leads to Gene having to flee Textopolis with his new pal Hi-5 (James Corden) to find a hacker named Jailbreak (Anna Faris) whom he hopes will be able to reprogram him to be Meh and help Hi-5 get back into the favorites page of his owner’s phone where he was once among the most oft-used Emojis.
That the main character of The Emoji Movie is supposed to be the literal face of indifference it says a lot about the crafting of The Emoji Movie; that we can’t tell if that is a meta joke or an ironic poor decision by the screenwriters. Meh is the best possible reaction The Emoji Movie could hope to elicit. The movie is kind of funny, kind of cute to look at; it could just as easily be referred to as Shoulder Shrug: The Movie as when someone asks me if I recommend The Emoji Movie, I will likely shrug my shoulders and offer a resigned "Meh, I guess."
The Emoji Movie isn’t entirely boring. James Corden for one is working very hard for the few laughs the movie earns. Corden’s Hi-5 is desperate to be one of the beloved Emojis in the phone again and his desperation leads to the only three laughs the film earns, including a visual gag of Hi-5 attempting to sneak into the lounge area for the most popular emojis that reminded me of a classic Daffy Duck gag. Corden’s effort is in every syllable of his voice performance as through several scenes he seems to be panting and sweating over the microphone trying to will jokes into existence.
T.J Miller, on the other hand, has never been blander. The actor, known for a laconic voice that is often betrayed by wacky, high energy hijinks all the recent Office Christmas Party and the TV series Silicon Valley, gives himself over completely to the kid friendly dullness of The Emoji Movie. Nothing about Gene stands out and Miller brings no vocal nuance to an already boring script. Even as Gene is building an infatuation with Faris’ Jailbreak, neither performance rises above the level of the rote and dull script.
I am aware that the long production time of an animated feature and the complicated animation process makes ad-libbing in the way that both Miller and Faris have shown a talent for in live action performances difficult, if not impossible, but the limitations don’t seem to have slowed down the performances of Corden, Maya Rudolph, who plays the evil Smiler emoji, or Patrick Stewart, who manages to be at least mildly amusing while playing a Poop emoji.
There was little hope that The Emoji Movie would be much more than an extended commercial for smartphone apps but the cast, at the very least, made it seem like it might be something more than just competent and kind of amusing. There was also the fact that The Lego Movie, an extended commercial itself, took an empty commercial premise and managed to make something awesome that spawned an even better sequel in The Lego Batman Movie. Sadly, the makers of The Emoji Movie have neither the talent nor the inventive imagination of the Lego team of Lord & Miller and thus we have The Emoji Movie, a not terrible but far from great animated commercial that might, at the very least, help you remember you still have Candy Crush on your phone.