When a film like The Emoji Movie is released in theaters, we should take note. We live, after all, in a free country. The fact that the makers of The Emoji Movie just induced hundreds of thousands of your fellow human beings to pay over fifty million dollars to see it is a meaningful fact. Supply meets demand. Granted, there are big corporation marketing executives working on creating demand. But “creating demand” still means a willingness of actual people to be persuaded that they want to do something. In other words, there is a good argument to be made that The Emoji Movie is our fault. We allowed our culture to get here. We did this. Perhaps we might want to consider some alternative paths to the one we are currently hurtling down.
Alissa Wilkinson, Vox, July 27, 2017:
“It’s amazing that we can put a man on the moon but movies like this still somehow get made. It’s amazing that with all that partner money, Sony couldn’t pay for a better script, with better lines of humorous dialogue to be delivered by the emojis than, ‘Throw some sauce on that dance burrito!’ It’s amazing — or maybe it isn’t — that … the filmmakers saw fit to have a character sing, ‘Nobody knows the touch screens I’ve seen / Nobody knows the screenshots,’ while sitting atop a pile of trash, to the tune of “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” a spiritual written by slaves to bolster their spirits while toiling in the pre-Emancipation American South.
It’s amazing to witness the baldly commercial attempt to shove as many recognizable apps as possible into The Emoji Movie’s sad excuse for a plot: Crackle (owned by Sony), WeChat (hugely popular in China, where this movie is aiming to make a killing), Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and Dropbox all make appearances, with Dropbox in particular representing a kind of heaven that some of the emojis are trying to reach. And there are two whole sequences that add nothing whatsoever to the story but suggest that King and Ubisoft — the makers of the apps Candy Crush and Just Dance, respectively — paid handsomely for their inclusion in the film …
Presented with such a stinking pile of poo, what can you possibly do? You can’t review it in all emojis — that’s too easy. You can’t explore its interesting ideas about children, phones, language, and communication, because it doesn’t have any. You can’t even fully describe in words, or emojis, the frustration of seeing money blithely poured into a film that’s one massive, uncritical ad for something nearly everyone in the theater already owns, dressed up as family-friendly entertainment. All there’s left to say is that giving money to a movie like this is only going to encourage more like it. So please: Don’t do it. Stay home. Watch literally anything else. And maybe put down your phone.”
John Serba, MLive, July 31, 2017:
“Perhaps the mere existence of the movie is another arrow directing us towards the ultimate end, albeit on a less corporeal, more metaphysical level. We won’t know for sure until we’re all dust. Maybe that’s hyperbole. But the burden of time’s passage has rarely felt so existentially distressing than when watching The Emoji Movie. What else could I have been doing instead of tolerating these 86 minutes of lazy non-jokes, brazen product placement and hopelessly misguided messages about individuality? Anything. Anything at all …
The premise is ripe for satire, but that clearly isn’t the movie’s intention. No, it exists to enlist popular games and social media platforms to supplement its budget, to be a synergistic marketing strategy so transparent, it should send us all spiraling into despair. Case in point, its attempt to force a phenomenon known as The Emoji Pop Dance into the pop-cultural zeitgeist, thus rendering itself a hopeful viral entity; if you listen closely during these scenes, you will hear Nero fiddling for us. The mind warps. Especially the young ones, lured in by the goofy talking blobs, and poisoned by the subtext.
Fie on this movie. Fie on those who bankrolled it, fie on those who wrote and directed it, fie on anyone who participated in it. It’s bright and cheery and colorful on the surface, but cynical and ugly beneath. Do not watch it unless you desire a glimpse into the void.”
Emily Yoshida, Vulture, July 27, 2017:
“The Emoji Movie is selling something. In the mock tradition of countless superior Pixar films before it, it’s attempting to sell a sense of childlike wonder and fascination with an ordinary, everyday object: your smartphone. And in doing so, it is one of the darkest, most dismaying films I have ever seen, much less one ostensibly made for children.
Let me get briefly more philosophical than this film deserves: Emoji remain a ripe source for humor in our everyday digital parlance, specifically because they are devoid of narrative, or even, ironically, emotion. There is a kind of poetry that has emerged from their use; an emoji is worth maybe not a thousand, but certainly a hundred words, and using one in place of words requires you to momentarily, subconsciously imagine that you are living in a language-free totalitarian state where a cry-laugh symbol is our linguistic Soylent. There’s a similar pathetic humor to the constricted movement and expression of Lego figurines, which The Lego Movie exploited to far greater effect. The Emoji Movie’s first aesthetic mistake is redesigning their titular figures to be the same kind of rubber-faced caricatures you can find in any other shrieking CGI kid-distracter on the market. Not once does this film rise above the level of humor of literally any real-world use of a simple upside-down-face emoji (whose meaning I tend to translate as “Wheeee, life is a horrible hall of mirrors and I am powerless to do anything but smile about it.”) …
There is a mumbled, shorthand moral about staying true to yourself in all this, but it is drowned out by the wall-to-wall cynicism that is The Emoji Movie’s entire reason for existing in the first place. The film runs through its list of corporate and Zeitgeist awareness obligations in dead-eyed lockstep, making sure to get in uses of the words ‘slay’ and ‘shade’ and lifting an entire section of the lyrics to Rihanna’s ‘Diamonds’ to telegraph a would-be important emotional beat (it’s not a joke, I don’t think). In the end, Meh’s embrace of his animated, multifaceted self just comes off as an ad for an Emoji Movie animated-sticker set that’s probably already out there. This is a film that seems beamed from a near future in which nothing goes right; ‘words,’ as the kids in the film agree, ‘aren’t cool’ anymore; and Patrick Stewart making jokes about soft shits is the new prestige TV.”
Bilge Ebiri, The Village Voice, July 28, 2017:
“Early on, it shows us teenagers on their phones, some running into each other because they’re not looking up. For a hot minute, the film seems like it might call into question our screen-obsessed culture. No such luck. The movie’s message amounts to ‘Your smartphone is great! You’d be a lunatic to get rid of anything on it!’ When I asked my son if the scenes of people staring nonstop at their phones reminded him of anybody, he said they reminded him of me. Tough but fair, kid.
Look, The Emoji Movie didn’t need to be good. It simply had to have talking, running, jumping emojis in it. And it does. This whole thing was pre-sold last year to a young audience obsessed with digital culture. Still, we’re lying if we grown-ups try to pretend that this one’s not on us. Young kids can be easily distracted and entertained for a couple of hours by something like this, and even at its worst the thing is mostly harmless. But kids didn’t create the pixelated and thoroughly dumbed-down society this movie has been introduced into, like some sort of trippy, multicolored cinematic virus. Even if you keep your own offspring away from smartphones and screens, they still live in a world where everyone else is glued to such things. The crisis of language and truth cannot be laid at the feet of tykes and teens. That a movie like this doesn’t interrogate itself is a given. That the rest of us probably won’t interrogate ourselves in its wake is a tragedy.”
Eric D. Snider, July 28, 2017:
“In terms of message, the soul-crushingly depressing theme of the movie is summed up in one line: ‘If we help Alex connect to [the girl he likes], maybe he won’t delete us!’ The movie is populated by yapping, unfunny, single-minded creatures who will be killed if they don’t prove themselves useful. And to be useful, they have to convey one thought at all times (except Gene, who can do whatever he wants), and help a 14-year-old boy flirt with a girl. That is their raison d’etre. Imagine the despair, not just of having such a limited purpose but being conscious of it. The film doesn’t address it, but surely Textopolis has the highest suicide rate of all the apps (except maybe LiveJournal). To summarize: it’s an unworkable premise that never should have been a movie, that nobody thought would actually become a movie, and that, having become one anyway, puts forth no effort to be a good one and is as bad as everyone thought it would be … (NOTE: I didn’t use any emojis in this review because I am an adult.)”
Wendy Ide, The Observer, August 6, 2017:
“This is what happens when a film studio decides not to bother with making films good enough to prise the audience from their smartphones and just embraces the fact that mobile devices are part of the movie-viewing experience for a swath of the younger audience. And it’s horrible. A bleak, witless, creative wasteland of a movie that plays out like Pixar’s Inside Out dumbed down for morons. I don’t think I’m overstating things here when I say that The Emoji Movie feels like a harbinger for the end of human civilisation as we know it. A strident palette of candy-coloured empty calories and poop jokes and a cynical message about accepting yourself had me searching for an emoji showing a dispirited film critic hanging from a noose fashioned from a phone-charger cable.”
Andy Psyllides, Sky Movies, August 3, 2017:
“Grim and grubby business from start to finish, this ninety-minute product-placement nightmare is like a version of Pixar’s Inside Out made by a sinister cabal of dead-inside marketing execs. It’s a rotten cash-grab exercise insidiously dressed up as family-friendly fun, a heartless, soulless void of a film designed to aggressively push junk apps on kids too young to know any better. The levels of cynicism and hypocrisy are staggering, with writer-director Tony Leondis happy to chuck out satirical softballs poking fun at the shallow emptiness of social media/app culture while simultaneously ramming the very same down your throat. Twitter, Spotify, YouTube, Candy Crush – all the big hitters get their sponsored moment in the sun. Corporate giants nakedly hawking their wares in the hope of jacking up download rates and ad revenue.”
Donald Clarke, Irish Times, August 7, 2017
“The hopeless effort to make a universe from product placement is annoying enough. The shocking entry-level animation is shameful in a project from a major studio. The ability to pick up the worst bits of much better films is genuinely hurtful (the emojis share the same creepy devotion to the phone’s owner as the toys did to the despotic Andy in Toy Story). But none of this premise-straining is quite so painful as the attempts to make sense of a wildly misplaced moral. As ever with such stories, the message is to do with being yourself and not worrying about fitting in. But uniformity is what makes emojis what they are. This is nonsense talk.”
Tomris Laffly, Time Out, July 28, 2017:
“Disregard that PG rating and keep your children far away from director Tony Leondis’ vile animated faux-comedy. Beneath its trippy surface lurks an insidious philosophy hazardous to impressionable minds. The Emoji Movie openly rolls its eyes at full-fledged thought, legitimizing poor communication skills by cheering on the decay of attention spans. Early on, a character gleefully declares, ‘Words aren’t cool!’ Is that the ideology the screenwriters embraced? It’s a fair question.”
Charles Bramesco, The Guardian, July 28, 2017:
“Children should not be allowed to watch The Emoji Movie. Their impressionable brains simply aren’t set up to sift through the thick haze of corporate subterfuge clouding every scene of this sponsored-content post masquerading as a feature film. Adults know enough to snort derisively when, say, an anthropomorphic high-five drops a reference to popular smartphone game Just Dance Now (available for purchase in the App Store, kids!), but young children especially are more innocent and more vulnerable. The Emoji Movie is a force of insidious evil, a film that feels as if it was dashed off by an uninspired advertising executive …
The ruthless mercenary details take the Emoji Movie beyond simply embarrassing and incompetent into something more manipulative and contemptible. One perplexing scene finds the emoji pals all doing a synchronised dance called ‘the emoji bop’. In a film so desperate to sell itself, this is clearly a craven bid to go viral, the cinematic equivalent of clickbait. The script practically begs for the approval of the tweens that elevated the lowly emoji to phenomenon status, but has only the slightest notion how they talk or act. Alex (Jake T Austin), the human in possession of the phone housing Gene and the rest of the cast, speaks like an dusty oldster. Alex’s awkward courtship of the cute girl in his class revolves around the deployment of emojis, but demonstrates no workable understanding of how the icons fit into adolescent life. Watching this fogeyish hero angle for edgy relevance is as uncomfortable as reading a fast-food chain’s Twitter account.
However, the most disturbing part of this toxic film is the way it infects audiences with its ugly cynicism. A viewer leaves The Emoji Movie a colder person, not only angry at the film for being unconscionably bad, but resentful of it for making them feel angry. A critic can accept the truth that art and commerce will spend eternity locked in opposition. Nevertheless it’s still startling to see art that cheers commerce on while being stamped in the face by its boots.”
Andy Crump, Paste Magazine, August 3, 2017:
“The Emoji Movie exists, and it’s a big, dumb, dishonestly corporate pox on all strains of culture, whether popular or technological. Sony Pictures Animation’s bright, carefree, earnestly juvenile marketing for the film suggests innocent if idiotic children’s fare—the sort of picture you’re doomed to bring your kids to see for lack of better options (or any options, really). But these elements, readily displayed in the film’s trailers, veil its true purpose as wanton product placement. If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of money changing hands in the background as mobile, web-based platforms like Youtube and Spotify are each name-dropped as a necessary function of The Emoji Movie’s plot. (If you’re wondering why a film adapted from your text message history needs plot, you’re giving it more thought than it deserves.)”
Rebecca Pahle, Pajiba, August 4, 2017:
“The Emoji Movie isn’t even enjoyable. It’s not funny. It gives us nothing new. Not every animated movie has to be a Zootopia or a Toy Story 3. But The Emoji Movie isn’t even semi-enjoyable fluff like Minions, which was stupid but at least had enough good gags that you wouldn’t want to tear your hair out if you had to take a kid to it. It’s paint-by-numbers, lazy bullshit that has all the “required” elements of its sort of film—pop culture references, a “be yourself” message, and poop jokes—done in an uninspired way that evinces complete and utter contempt for its audience.”
Hilary A. White, Sunday Independent, August 7. 2017:
“For anyone over a certain age, emojis are the small smiley faces and characters used in phone text messaging to do the job language once did. They have been deemed sufficiently ‘now’ to justify throwing millions of dollars and a bevy of talent at a film adaptation because that’s surely what the world needs right now. Behind this thinking is the very same lack of regard for consequence and taste that elects reality TV stars to government or ejects nations from financial markets. It’s been signed-off on – what now? Here’s what: A cinema release perhaps without equal this year in terms of how shockingly dreadful it is.”
David Ehrlich, Indiewire, July 27, 2017:
“Make no mistake, The Emoji Movie is very, very, very bad (we’re talking about a hyperactive piece of corporate propaganda in which Spotify saves the world and Sir Patrick Stewart voices a living turd), but real life is just too hard to compete with right now. Not even a gaudy monument to late capitalism that masquerades as children’s entertainment — a film that bends over backwards to teach your kids that true happiness is always just an app away — can measure up to what’s happening off-screen. Not even a witless cartoon that unfolds like a PG-rated remake of ‘They Live’ as told from the aliens’ POV feels as toxic as glancing at your Twitter feed or (God forbid) turning on the television news.”
Matt Prigge, Metro, July 27, 2017:
“The makers of ‘The Emoji Movie’ are not Pixar, and any intellectual or emotional subtext gets lost in a sea of bad puns and first-thing-that-pops-in-the-head jokes reminiscent of the grueling Dreamworks face-palm machine ‘A Shark Tale.’ Corden’s hand emoji says ‘Talk to the hand!’, a colon complains about his colon and two poops (one voiced by Sir Patrick Stewart) shout, ‘We’re number two!’ When it tries to go deep, the result is nonsensical aphorisms (‘What’s the point of being number one when they aren’t any other numbers?’) that play like Zen koans badly translated into Japanese then into English. ‘Words aren’t cool!’, says one of the high schoolers, and he has a point; just look at the script.
Eventually, it turns into an advertisement for emojis, its human characters saying things like, ‘That’s a super-cool emoji!’ For those who don’t text with emojis, it will only serve as a reminder to keep the written word alive — to defy a culture that would spawn ‘The Emoji Movie’ by texting with complete sentences, correct capitalization and passive-aggressive punctuation.”
Peter Sobczynski, RogerEbert.com, July 28, 2017:
“The failure of imagination in The Emoji Movie is not limited to its depiction of the app world. This is a film that has literally nothing to offer viewers—there are no moments of humor, excitement or insight regarding a culture that considers emojis to be the pinnacle of contemporary communication. The actors go through their lines with such a lack of enthusiasm that they make Krusty the Klown seem focused and committed by comparison. The message about the importance of Being True To Yourself rings exceptionally hollow considering that there is not a single thing here that has not been blatantly taking from other, better films. In fact, the only factor about the screenplay that is remotely surprising is the presence of Mike White, the acclaimed writer of the likes of ‘School of Rock’ and ‘Beatriz at Dinner,’ as one of the credited screenwriters. How to explain his participation in a project as lame as this? My guess is that, as the most powerful and popular emoji of all, the Poop emoji demanded he be brought in to punch up his dialogue.
‘The Emoji Movie’ is a demonstration of artistic abdication at its most venal, but will the kids like it? To that question, I offer this observation. This past weekend, I played ersatz uncle by taking two adorable girls of my acquaintance—10-year-old Mamie and 4-year-old Danger (actually, that is her middle name and I swear I am not joking)—to see Hayao Miyazaki’s 1989 favorite ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’ on the big screen in a nearly-full theater that contained a lot of families with small children. The kids didn’t know they were seeing a masterpiece but were so caught up in the story and the gorgeous visuals that you could hear a pin drop in the auditorium. By comparison, at the screening of ‘The Emoji Movie’ I attended, there were plenty of kids but judging by the shifting in seats, rustling of candy bags and the lack of laughter, they did not seem to be into it at all. ‘The Emoji Movie’ may be as depressing of a film experience as anything to come out this year but if the reaction of the kids that I saw it with is any indication, there may be hope for the future after all.”