The Emoji Movie Review

*Though I usually try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, this one will contain some spoilers because, well, do you really care?*

“And Sir Patrick Stewart as Poop.”

Seeing those words on the end credits of The Emoji Movie is the best part of The Emoji Movie. When Sir Patrick Stewart was first announced to be voicing a sentient turd emoji, it seemed to (very temporarily) relieve some of the concerns audiences had regarding The Emoji Movie, since it seemed to hint that perhaps the film had some sense of creative fun about it, juvenile though it may have been. Sadly, the classy vocals of Sir Patrick Stewart emanating from Poop is the one tiny spark of inspiration that The Emoji Movie possesses, and even it is wasted, as the good Sir Poop only has a small handful of lines in the film’s entirety.

So the one promising thing The Emoji Movie had going for it is wasted, and everything else, well… it’s bad.

I went to see The Emoji Movie with two of my friends (I didn’t want to suffer alone), whose responses after the movie ranged from “that felt longer than Peter Jackson’s King Kong” to “I feel empty. Not angry, not sad. Just empty.” I found myself actually face-palming during many of the film’s cringe-worthy jokes, and trying my damnedest to not burst out with laughter at the film’s utterly dumbfounding resolution. This, my friends, is one of the worst animated movies ever made (with the only thing preventing me from hailing it as the worst being the fact that I’ve seen Food Fight!, so at the very least, The Emoji Movie has that going for it).

The Emoji Movie desperately – and I mean desperately – wants to be a Pixar-style film. The director, Tony Leondis, is a confessed fan of Pixar films (of course, saying one enjoys Pixar films is like saying you’re a carbon-based, oxygen-breathing life form). In fact, Leondis has admitted that the inspiration for the film stemmed from trying to come up with a modern-day equivalent to Toy Story at the same time he received a text message that featured an emoji.

That already seems like a pretty lazy “eureka” moment, but it also just isn’t an idea that can support an entire movie and have any kind of emotional resonance. Toy Story works because, as children, we love our toys. They help bring life to our imaginations, inspire creativity, and even introduce us to storytelling. Children form bonds with their toys that can sometimes be difficult for adults to remember; but something like Toy Story reminds us exactly why these little plastic objects once meant so much to us, while also telling stories that reflect human emotions even for us adults.

By contrast, emojis are little faces we put into text messages. That’s really it. They can be cute, sweet or funny in certain contexts, but I can safely say I’ve never felt emotionally attached to an emoji. If Leondis really wanted to find the more contemporary equivalent to toys, video games are kind of a thing these days. Though I suppose Wreck-It Ralph already beat him to the punch on that one.

I believe almost any concept can be made into a decent enough movie in the right hands. But there are certain concepts that I think can only be good under more specific circumstances. The Emoji Movie is one of those instances. If this were a parody of Toy Story and its ilk, The Emoji Movie may have been able to find some footing. But in seriously trying to turn a concept like emojis into something in the vein of Toy Story or Inside Out, it just comes off as bottom of the barrel material, and you can’t take it seriously.

Oh right, the plot. So The Emoji Movie primarily takes place in the world of Textopolis, a city inside of the smart phone of a teenage boy named Alex (Jake T. Austin). Here, every emoji only knows one thing: sad emojis are sad, angry emojis are angry, Christmas Tree emojis are festive, and poop emojis… apparently class up the place because they’re voiced by Sir Patrick Stewart.

Anyway, there’s one emoji who’s different from the rest, Gene (T.J. Miller), who is supposed to be a “meh” emoji, but finds himself being far more expressive, capable of showing more emotions than just “meh.” This proves problematic, because every emoji’s job is to stand in a box and make their one specific face when their user needs said emoji. On his first day on the job, Gene panics, and ends up making a weird face instead of the desired “meh,” and ends up being labelled a malfunction. Textopolis’ dictator-esque Smiler (Maya Rudolph), a smiling emoji, then demands that Gene be deleted from the phone.

“Aw sick! That thing has a face!”

Gene then becomes an outlaw, on the run from Smiler’s bots. It’s then that Gene befriends High-Five (James Corden), a disturbingly hand-shaped emoji who wishes to be popular again, after he’s seen less uses in text messages in favor of Fist-Bump. The duo plans to reprogram Gene with the help of an infamous hacker named Jailbreak (Anna Faris), who is secretly a princess emoji, and possibly the most obnoxiously shoehorned example of faux-feminism in recent movie history (complete with blue hair and lipstick, and a hipster beanie, because God forbid a woman be the slightest bit feminine).

No, seriously. This character really is terrible. In one instance she delivers a laughably forced bit of dialogue about trying to break stereotypes of female emojis only being able to be princesses and brides (despite the film already featuring many female emoji who do not fill those roles, including Smiler, the ruler of Textopolis). Besides, aren’t emoji just genderless faces anyway? If an emoji bride or princess looks feminine, that’s only because those are gender-specific positions that happen to be feminine, but the emojis themselves are, again, just stupid little faces. Do people actually worry about this stuff? Jailbreak also accuses Gene of trying to take credit for her ideas “like all men take credit for women’s ideas,” even though he’s simply acknowledging her idea in the scene in question. If acknowledging things were the same as taking credit for them, then I would be taking credit for every movie I’ve reviewed, including this one. And God knows I don’t want to take any credit for that.

Wow, I’m really getting sidetracked. I guess talking about pretty much anything is more fun than talking about the plot of The Emoji Movie. But one must finish what one started.

So anyway, the trio of Gene, High-Five and Jailbreak set out on an adventure through Alex’s phone, in hopes of breaking into “the Cloud,” where Jailbreak can reprogram Gene, and she can finally be free of the stereotypes of Textopolis. Along the way, they plug as many apps as possible; including Twitter, FaceBook, YouTube, Instagram, Candy Crush and Just Dance. Oh yeah, and a “piracy app” which Alex has on his phone for reasons the film conveniently ignores.

Meanwhile, Gene’s meh emoji parents Mel and Mary – whose names couldn’t even be spelled “Mehl” and “Mehry” because that would require some thought – set out on their own journey to find their son in an unnecessary subplot. There is yet another side story involving Alex himself, and his inability to communicate with his crush through emojis (if only there were some way for humans to communicate other than goofy faces on our phones).

Things grow ever urgent as the malfunction of Gene sends Alex’s phone into a fritz (I’m sure the piracy app has nothing to do with it), and Alex makes an appointment to have his phone wiped clean, which would erase all the inhabitant of his phone, emojis included. Why Alex doesn’t try resetting his phone or any other standard method before jumping right into having the whole thing erased, I’ll never know.

How does this all resolve, why, by Gene making a series of faces in a single text message sent to Alex’s crush’s phone which, according to said crush, proves that Alex has a way of expressing his feelings. The two end up together, and Alex decides not to have the content of his phone erased. Damn.

Under any other circumstance, I’d hate to give away any ending. But the resolution of The Emoji Movie is just so bad on so many levels that it would have to be seen to be believed, and I don’t want to put you through seeing this movie. So hopefully my explanation gives you enough of an idea. Again, the kid gets the girl in the end because of an emoji. It’s such a crap ending, it could be voiced by Sir Patrick Stewart.

Sony Pictures Animation doesn’t have the best track record for animated features, but most of their resume is inoffensively mediocre. But The Emoji Movie… this is just bad, bad, bad. Sony Pictures Animation still has the budget to provide clean, colorful animation and a talented (and wasted) voice cast. But not even the shiniest animation or the most acclaimed voice actors could save material like this. There’s not even a joke in the movie that works. Within five minutes we have an Australian-accented shrimp emoji show up who comments how he needs to “get on the barbie.” It never gets better from there.

To sum up The Emoji Movie… 

P.S. The poop is voiced by Sir Patrick Stewart.


Norm of the North Review

Norm of the North

It’s kind of sad to think that in 2016 – a year that saw such great animated releases as Zootopia, Moana, Finding Dory, Kubo and the Two Strings and a number of others – could also produce an animated feature as abysmal as Norm of the North. This half-baked, half-witted cartoon is at once so generic it seems like the filmmakers just copied and pasted the most basic animated premise they’d seen, and so mishandled you wonder if the filmmakers have ever seen a movie.

Norm of the North tells the story of (surprise) Norm of the North (Rob “Insert South Park reference” Schneider), a polar bear who was born with the ability to speak English, a gift he shares only with his grandpa, who has been MIA for some time. This makes Norm an outcast to the other animals of the Arctic, with his only friend being a bird named Socrates (Bill Nighy).

When it turns out that a development company is building houses on the Arctic (because why not?), Norm runs into a human woman named Vera (Heather Graham), an employee of the development company who captures Norm on video. She then sends the footage of Norm to her boss, Mr. Greene (Ken Jeong), who asks Vera to find a spokesperson for his company by, and I quote “finding an actor who looks just like that polar bear.” 

Norm manages to sneak onboard Vera’s plane, accompanied by a trio of annoying lemmings, whom I think are supposed to be the comic relief. He lands in New York City, applies for the job as the spokesperson for Mr. Greene’s company (as a means to use his gift of talking to humans to save the arctic from development), and ultimately gets said job, convincing everyone he is a method actor constantly wearing a polar bear suit.

Norm of the NorthFrom there, the rest of the plot focuses on Norm gaining popularity as a spokesman to try to get the approval ratings for Mr. Greene’s company up, so that Norm can publicly endorse against developing in the Arctic. Also, there’s a subplot about Vera trying to get her genius daughter Olympia into a special college for geniuses, and needs the recommendation of Mr. Greene – an alumni of the college – in order to get her daughter enrolled (in what is ultimately a weak excuse in trying to justify why Vera tolerates Mr. Greene’s antics). Also also, another subplot involves Norm’s grandfather having been kidnapped by Mr. Greene, and Norm’s attempts to rescue him.

It’s… yeah…

I don’t even know where to begin with this mess of a plot. The whole “outcast main character” setup is just so commonplace in animated features, and Norm of the North never even attempts to give Norm any additional defining traits to justify the cliched setup (unless one counts twerking as a defining trait, that is). Then the environmentalist theme is just so obnoxiously loud. I’m all for protecting the environment, but Norm of the North seems to shout its message through a megaphone at every turn as a means to feel important. Subtlety really goes a long way with thematics, but Norm of the North’s display of environmentalism is so forced and loud even the most diehard treehugger would roll their eyes in contempt and annoyance.

As if the overarching plot weren’t insulting enough to the intelligence of its audience, many of the singular moments of Norm of the North are just beyond stupid. Case in point: there’s an instance in the film when Mr. Greene first suspects Norm is a real polar bear, and attempts to shoot Norm in a crowded restaurant. Norm subdues Mr. Greene, and because of his heroism, the approval ratings for Mr. Greene and his company begin to soar.

But hold on a sec! Mr. Greene is the one who was trying to shoot someone in a crowded restaurant, but his approval ratings skyrocket because his recently-hired spokesperson was the one who saved the day?! Wouldn’t Mr. Greene’s company lose approval after its owner tried to blatantly murder someone in public? Couldn’t Norm have used Mr. Greene’s blatant display of madness as a means to discredit him and his company? I’m sure even the youngest of audiences would find this glaring disregard towards storytelling and basic logic to be insulting. And the movie is filled with such moments.

If this weren’t all bad enough, the film’s animation is both outdated and ugly, so you can’t even compliment it on a visual front. The character designs are all generic and uninspired, and their movements look clunky and awkward. The sole commendable thing I can think of with the film is that Mr. Greene’s movements are purposefully exaggerated and sporadic, which actually fits with the character. It’s like, for that one character, the animators actually played to their strengths. But it doesn’t change how mechanical everyone else moves. I would say that Norm of the North’s CG looks like something from the early 2000s, but CG from the early 2000s actually holds up better.

Norm of the North is simply not an enjoyable movie. Its story is beyond pedestrian, it’s themes feel shoehorned, its animation is ugly, the characters unmemorable, and those damn lemmings keep peeing on everything.

I really, really don’t like this movie.