‘The Emoji Movie’ Is Not Actually a Movie at All


by Joel Golby
11 August 2017, 11:50pm

Emojis are fun little pictures that live inside your phone. You think of them the same way you think of a banana, or iPhone earbuds. They are there, and that is OK, but you can feasibly live without them. Sure, you know, fine, but also very much whatever. It is very hard to hate a banana, for instance, but you would not want to watch an 85-minute movie about a banana. They live in this curious grey place of no extremes, where it's hard to feel anything about them – love, hate, fire, cold – because they are just there. Like an appendix, or a fax machine. Horse shoes. Ice pops. For something that supposedly encompasses the cornucopia of human emotion, emojis are bizarrely emotion-neutral.


This is the trailer to The Emoji Movie. I would also like to say: it is also basically the entire plot of The Emoji Movie, as well. I know you are wary of spoilers, and you do not want your enjoyment of The Emoji Movie ruined. I get that. But also I would say: imagine, in the loosest way possible, what the plot of The Emoji Movie might be. You just almost certainly just imagined the entire plot of The Emoji Movie. The Emoji Movie is about an emoji who fucks up being an emoji by having too many emotions and goes on a journey of redemption with James Corden. He goes out of the text app and into other apps. He goes to Dropbox then comes back again. No shit; not even shitting you. Everyone applauds him when he returns to save the emoji from the evil smiling emoji queen, and he is anointed a sort of emoji king. That is it" that is the plot to the movie. The main emoji is the emoji for "meh". His given name is Gene. It troubles me that the emoji has a name, for some reason. It makes him more than an emoji. Somewhere between human and not. A monster.


The point is I have seen The Emoji Movie, and that was fine – I didn't laugh but I didn't cry either – and here are five conclusions I have drawn from it. You are of course welcome to see the film – to pay eight to 12 pounds, and queue up, carpet-sticky popcorn pieces on your new trainers, then pay £4 for a bag of M&Ms, £3 for a big Coke, then get your ticket torn by a granite-faced boy in an over-washed polo shirt before sitting through 30 minutes of adverts (cinemas: if I have paid £12 to watch this, why am I also watching adverts? You have your money. You got it from me. I have now paid for you to waste my time. Rethink.) and then the trailers, then the film proper, all of this in a not-quite-dark-enough room with 100 people who can't go an hour-and-a-half without getting up and having a piss, and also the temperature of the room is either too hot or frigidly cold, no other options available, the modern cinema experience there – so yes, you could go to the cinema, and you could watch it, and you could draw conclusions of your own. But you're not going to, so. Anyway:


Hey: who is The Emoji Movie for? Fans of emoji? There is no such thing as fans of emoji. Nobody identifies as an emoji fan. Even the people who own emoji cushions aren't emoji fans. Ask them. Ask them directly why they bought a cushion. "A cheerful mistake," they will say. Is it for adults? It is not for adults. You know how some animated movies are, secretly, sort of for adults? You know like how actual grown-ups go to see Disney movies, and go to Disneyland. Pathological grown-ups, weird grown-ups. People who have dark urges that would, in another lifetime, come out as child killing, but instead comes out as a sincere affinity for Disneyland. This is not for them, either. Is it for kids? I dunno. I know kids. Not personally, but the concept. I was a kid once. Parts of me still are. As a child, I found nothing redeeming in The Emoji Movie other than a scene where Patrick Stewart's poop emoji does a poop (*1) and then talks to his son, a smaller poop, about the tribulations of being a poop who poops. Beyond that, it was just a load of references to Dropbox I didn't really get and some dancing sequences. Even kids aren't fooled by that shit.

So essentially, this movie is for nobody, it has no audience. Caveat: I went to a special screening attended by: i. people who worked for Candy Crush, which features briefly in the movie, and no shit cheered when the words "Candy Crush" appeared, so I guess the film was in large part for them, but that seems to me a niche audience for a film that cost $50 million to make; ii. journalists. If I were to go out on a limb and identify a core audience, I would say "journalists", because basically the only people who are going to go out of their way to watch The Emoji Movie are the people who are going to regurgitate it out again as a "hot take", or a list of five Emoji Movie conclusions which then lead to a wider Emoji Movie conclusion, the entire format coming in the form of a list—


The main conflict of The Emoji Movie is that the emoji Meh (or Gene, whatever) messes everything up by pulling the wrong face. I should briefly explain how emojis work as per the Emoji Movie: a gigantic central arm pulls emoji from a wall of boxes as and when they need to be used, and at that exact moment the emoji responsible has to pull the exact emoji face they are being employed to do, otherwise there is a malfunction (in this case, the malfunction is that the kid who owns the phone is trying to chirpse [via emoji, a mug's game] and his chirpsing goes awry, so he decides to go to the phone shop the next day to delete the entire contents of his phone) (an overreaction, yes, but the emoji stopped him from getting his horny on and so he got mad: you must understand that or the movie makes no sense). In the course of pulling the wrong face Gene also pulled down the gigantic arm and ruined all the boxes, &c., generally made a mess. Things went on fire a bit. It was a whole deal.

So anyway, to fix the mess he has to find a hacker to hack his face so it stops emoting in myriad different ways, and then he can be a functioning emoji again. He needs to do this before the horny boy deletes his phone. This is the hero's journey.

But then he discovers on his journey that, actually, expressing yourself is good. This isn't a moral. Nobody needed to know that, because it is nobody's job to pull the exact same face every second of every day while a gigantic arm scans you. So there is no takeaway there. No moral. Additionally: when he comes back, Gene, using his newfound control of his many emotions, helps the boy who owns the phone do a sick chirpse, which makes him decide to undelete his phone – everyone cheers and applauds. But he was only ever going to delete the contents of the phone – therefore killing every emoji who lived on the phone – because Gene fucked up in the first place. Do you understand? They are cheering the only person responsible for their demise. This would be like Donald Trump firing a nuke at North Korea, then intercepting his own nuke and then us going, "Woah, man. Good job Donald Trump stopped a nuclear war happening! Fuckin' phew, right! Big him up." It would not have happened in the first place if he never fucked up.

There is no moral to this story. Gene is a villain. He fucked up and nearly got the entire world deleted. He should be killed or put in prison, not elected as the emojis' new king. I am absolutely livid at this ending.


There are two moments in The Emoji Movie where I am fully convinced I am going to see emojis fuck, and I still cannot decide if that would have added or detracted to the Emoji Movie experience. One: Gene's parents, on a hunt for their lost boy, go into Instagram and have a moment by a frozen-in-time fountain in a Parisian street scene. It really, really seems like they are about to fuck. They don't fuck, but, like: for a second it really feels like they are about to fuck. It would be a nice place to fuck. They're adults. There's nobody else around. It's actually weird they don't fuck. Second fuck bit: Gene and the hacker, a former princess emoji called Jailbreak, are in a boat? Inside the app Spotify? And put some romantic music on? And stare into each other's eyes a lot? And it really seems like they are going to fuck?

This is the subplot of The Emoji Movie: by being yourself, and by saving the world from ending while you do it, people will fall in love with you.

Man: who the fuck wants to see emojis fall in love? Every movie that is not explicitly about love does absolutely not need love in it, in my opinion. Here are some films where it's good when people fall in love:

– 10 Things I Hate About You
– Pretty Woman
– Love Actually

Here are some films where people slowly falling in love actively detracts from the good part of the film:

–The Fast & Furious
– Jurassic World, man! Stop falling in love, dipshits! Get off the island!
– The Emoji Movie

Man, I am so absolutely through with people falling in love in movies. I am done with it. Had enough. Get rid.


Emojis have always had an arduous grasp on the concept of cool: coolness and emojis do not go hand in hand. We all liked the novelty, of them, when they got big a couple of years ago, didn't we? We all liked to use them in our texts, or put them next to names in our contacts list. All that shit. I think a lot of us hold our "Favourite Emoji" menu quite close to our hearts. But also: when everyone's mum figured out how to use emoji, that really knocked the brand. Same goes for every pound shop and weird tourist shop on Oxford Street selling semi-legit emoji merchandise. Do you think you could go your entire life and never see the tongue-sticky-out emoji again? I think you probably could. What about when alt-right bros all put the frog emoji in their screen names: that was the legally-defined inverse of cool, wasn't it? And just when we thought emoji had gone as low as it could go, this: an 85-minute movie where emoji learn about love and themselves and emotion and the freedom of expression, and Dropbox and Spotify and Instagram, and that's it, now. That is the least cool thing that has ever happened to anything. This really could push emoji over the edge. Using them casually in text messages is an endorsement of this kind of behaviour. Stop it at once.


One of my favourite movies is Transformers 4 – Age of Extinction, and not because it's a good film – oh man, that film stinks – but just due to the sheer naked opportunism of the commercial placement in it. Look at this segment, where Mark Wahlberg crashes a Transformer into a Bud Light van then angrily drinks a bottle of Bud Light about it:

How much you think that cost? Or: or this bit, where one of the Transformers is just Oreo-branded, for some reason? Okay, mate.

This is what The Emoji Movie is like for 85 minutes. It's essentially a very long advert for apps. There is Instagram, and Facebook. The goal is to get to Dropbox and ascend to the cloud. All the staple apps are on there: Twitter, Spotify. Then there is a ten-minute segment where, to get away from the bots that are chasing them, the emoji dive into the Just Dance app, which of course everyone has and loves. Everyone loves Just Dance. That's why it is in the movie: because of sincere public love for the app, and not because money changed hands. So it's hard, really, to review it as a film, because it's sort of not a film: it's just a series of adverts stitched together in the vague shape of a film. Fundamentally: The Emoji Movie is not a movie at all.

And also: the film isn't bad. That was what most people at my screening were saying as they came out blinking into the sunlight, that lilt of surprise in their voice: "Well, it wasn't bad!" Was it good? Also no. It's a completely neutral way to spend an hour-and-a-half of your life. It's just on. It's there. It's happening. The 8 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating for The Emoji Movie is a misnomer, because that rating system is designed for actual movies. Asking The Emoji Movie to stick to the structure and form of a movie is like asking a lamp to do maths, or reviewing a dog's ability to cook a roast dinner. Dogs cannot cook roast dinners because they are not designed to do that. It is unfair to rate them down when they spill a load of roast potatoes onto the floor of the kitchen.

I think this, too, is why James Corden is the perfect casting for the role of Hi-5: James Corden is fundamentally, to his bones, an annoying tosser who I loathe. But also: he's alright, isn't he? He's harmless. With his American success built on being a cheery sycophant and his UK success built on doing what your mum thinks is banter, all while photocopying Ricky Gervais' laugh and being fucking ubiquitous, he is everything and nothing all at once: annoying, unfunny; likeable, charming; James Corden occupies this curious space where he is at once the most irritating man on the planet but also kind of alright. Schrödinger's bellend. He was made to be in this non-movie.


Oh: down. There is nowhere else to go but down. This is, no matter how you look at it, the death of culture. No story, no likeable characters. Essentially just the names of various apps repeated over and over. No audience. No reason for it to exist. And yet it does. This – this is the moment we'll all point at and go, "Well, we deserve everything we get from here." We consumed so much shit that someone made The Emoji Movie, and then we consumed that too, because we are shitmunchers, one and all. It has already made money. There will be another one. We brought this on ourselves. And that I suppose is the sad part about it all: it – and by "it", I mean everything, forever – only gets worse from here.


(*1) Which just fucking boxed my mind. How can a poop do a poop and what does it poop if it's already poop? It would be like me going to the bathroom and shitting out an arm, or something. A ridiculous thing to do.

Emoji Movie
The Emoji Movie
about emoji
it is a movie about them