Not since Battlefield Earth has there been a work of cinema so flagrantly stand as a form of corporate self-promotion as The Emoji Movie. Utterly audacious in just how much outright pandering it can fit in, it’s numbing to the point that an attempt to craft a character out of the Twitter logo isn’t even among its most toe-curling – and, presumably, well paid-for – namechecks. Focus-grouped to buggery, yet still feeling like Silicon Valley badly wanted its own Wreck-It-Ralph, perhaps the single worst part of The Emoji Movie is that it’s actually a decently funny animated adventure flick. No, you read that right.
T.J. Miller is Emmett – sorry, Gene – a “Meh” emoji whose first day at the Monsters, Inc.-style Emoji company ends in disaster and sends an amalgam Emoji to the owner of the phone in which their world exists. Strangely, it’s not specifically a Sony phone. Funny, that. The incident leads to Alex – their user, or benevolent overlord, depending on how you look at it – assuming his phone has developed a glitch and booking a Genius Bar appointment to have it erased. Y’know, cos his phone presumably lacks a browser that’d enable him to Google the process and do it himself in, like, a minute tops. Anyway. Emmett – sorry, Gene! – sets off on a journey with James Corden’s High Five Emoji to locate the hacker Jailbreak (Anna Farris) in order for her to lead them to “The Cloud” so that Gene can be reprogrammed to have his quirks and individuality erased and allow him to serve as a better Meh. Oh, and High Five’s coming along cos he wants to be added to the Favourites bar of the Emoji keyboard, and that’s basically celebrity status to them. They spent fifty million on developing this as a movie.
And yet it’s pretty funny. You never quite get past the frankly hideous corporate ethos throbbing beneath its surface, admittedly, but there’s enough wit to the screenplay – co-written by School of Rock’s Mike White – to at least keep you laughing throughout. Miller’s no Chris Pratt, but delivers a solid enough lead, while Corden plays to his strengths with a pretty likeable sidekick. Anna Farris, meanwhile, is done a disservice by a character arc that gets dropped just as soon as it threatens to blossom into something interesting, and even her energetic vocal work can’t quite overcome the mawkish way her female lead is obligatorily relegated to love interest seemingly out of the blue.
At times, The Emoji Movie feels more like a heavily sanitised take on Sausage Party rather than the masterful LEGO Movie riff it so clearly wants to be. It really could be retitled Focus Group: The Movie though, and that mentality is something its baseline level of enjoyment simply never manages to overcome or even briefly mask. Far from the worst movie of the year, as some have decried, The Emoji Movie is unquestionably the most sinister. It’s an animated comedy that delivers on the laughs however, and, for making good on that very basic remit, it’s enough to deny it the Poop Emoji review you’d expect and lean more towards a Meh instead. And that’s a level of irony you couldn’t quite have predicted for a summer tentpole movie based on text messaging.
The Emoji Movie is in cinemas nationwide from Friday, August 4th; rated TBC. Check out the trailer below.