*This review contains every possible spoiler for The Emoji Movie. You've been warned.*
How do we define what is "good?"
If we define good entertainment as something that shows originality, craftsmanship, and passion, The Emoji Movie is bad. It's really bad. But if we get a little more clinical, and define goodness as how well something performs the function for which it was intended, The Emoji Movie might be the most perfect thing I have ever seen.
If you've ever agreed to see a friend's improv show or help them move, you know the feeling I felt immediately after I volunteered to go see The Emoji Movie this afternoon and report back. I cannot go into detail about what I did to prepare myself mentally for this task, but I will say that no amount of it would have helped, and it did not enhance my experience aside from making me spend $15 on a flatbread AMC pizza that even now roils in my gut.
Advertisements for The Emoji Movie have been around New York for a long time, and I wondered on many occasions how on Earth one could write a plot about emojis. The answer, apparently, is to eat the brown acid. The movie centers on an emoji named Gene, voiced by T.J. Miller of Silicon Valley. Gene is supposed to be a "meh" face emoji, but cannot keep a fixed blasé expression.
Basically, he feels too much, and too often (dude…me too), to be a successful emoji, so the deranged "Smiler" emoji (Maya Rudolph) decides he has to be deleted and sends a fleet of malevolent bots to chase him around the world of the smartphone he "lives" on. (Picture me doing airquotes for most of this review, please.)
Gene meets up with another emoji, Hi-5 (the high-five emoji, voiced by James Corden) and a hacker named Jailbreak (Anna Faris), with the goal of getting reprogrammed so he can be successfully bored at all times. He seeks out Jailbreak on the advice of Hi-5, who has heard that Jailbreak successfully freed a Princess emoji into the Cloud.
Surprise, Jailbreak is a girl! Surprise, she's actually the aforementioned Princess emoji, who never really got out! Surprise, Gene eventually decides being himself is better than being somebody else! Surprise, he ends up saving the day! Surprise, he and Jailbreak fall in love!
This movie never challenges you for a single second. Occasionally, there are the barest allusions to pop-culture feminism through Jailbreak's character, but she ends up sticking with Gene in Princess form, ditching her cool blue alt-girl side ponytail and knit beanie. The suspenseful moments barely register, and the jokes are barely jokes. Most of them are toilet humor based around the Poop emoji, voiced by Patrick Stewart. This casting is the only remotely funny thing about the movie, aside from its assertion that the Eggplant emoji is one of the "loser" emoji, loser meaning seldom-used. I know this is a movie for children, but I do not like to be lied to like that.
This 86-minute piece of work is the shiny, smooth output of a machine so cynical and uninspired it defies cognition. Everything in this movie is a plug, mostly for apps: Candy Crush, Instagram, etc. This movie was conceived, produced, directed, written, animated and voice-acted with the sole intention of making money, primarily through product placement. This is so nakedly obvious I'm not even sure if it needs to be said. Even TJ Miller admitted this, in an interview with Hollywood Reporter: "[I quit], like, the best show on television, in my opinion, and I'm going and doing The Emoji Movie—and you can publish that because Sony knows we down to get motherfucking paid globally."
Whether anyone goes to see this movie won't even matter. It has bought and paid for itself. In that, it is perfect, a perpetual motion machine. I completely dissociated watching this movie. I was outside my body. I became completely numb. I became Meh.