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.


Food Fight! Review

Food Fight!

You might think the title of “worst animated movie in history” may belong to some obscure feature from animation’s early years. Perhaps an odd cartoon experiment from a time before artists fine-tuned the craft, that maybe had a limited budget that prevented it from achieving standard production values.

But you’d be wrong. The film most widely considered to be the worst animated film in history had a multi-million dollar budget, and was released in 2012. The title of this straight-to-DVD abomination is Food Fight!, and its repugnant reputation is well-earned. Food Fight! is the worst animated feature I have ever seen.

I safely make such a claim without the slightest bit of hesitation or hyperbole. I have never seen an animated film that even begins to approach its ineptitude, annoyance, and flat-out ugliness. After having watched Food Fight!, I now have a finer appreciation for The Nut Job and Norm of the North. Food Fight! makes even those awful movies look good by comparison. Yes, Food Fight! is that bad.

"This character is named "Cheasel." A weasel made of cheese. But he looks more like poop."
“This character is named “Cheasel.” A weasel made of cheese. But he looks more like poop.”

Food Fight! had a notorious production history. It was originally intended for theaters – heaven forbid – and slated for release in 2003. Reportedly, the hard drives containing a number of the film’s original assets were stolen, leading the film’s production to be put on hold until 2004. The film was then to be redone with motion-capture and released in 2005, another release date it ended up missing.

The production problems were so bad, in fact, that the filmmakers had trouble getting investments to afford the film’s budget…during its production. Through some ironic miracle, the film did manage to nab a few celebrities to provide the voice work (including Charlie Sheen, Wayne Brady, Eva Longoria, Hilary Duff, Edward Asner and even one of my favorite actors in Christopher Lloyd), but that must have been where all of the money went.

Everything got so bad that the studio behind the film lost all faith in the filmmakers, and auctioned off the film’s assets in 2011, and the financing company backing the film invoked a clause in their contract that allowed the film to be finished as cheaply and quickly as possible, so that they might get something out of this fiasco after years of nothing. In doing so, they unleashed a great evil upon the world.

"The kid's head is in the foreground. The girl is kicking the ball in the background. Yet the ball overlaps in front of the kid's head."
“The kid’s head is in the foreground. The girl is kicking the ball in the background. Yet the ball overlaps in front of the kid’s head. Just…wow.”

By this point, it should go without saying that the production values of Food Fight! are virtually non-existent. The animation – if it can rightfully be called that – is undoubtedly the ugliest I’ve ever seen. It looks sloppy, is blatantly unfinished, and the character designs are grotesque and nightmare-inducing. I can’t imagine a kid (supposedly the film’s target audience) could watch even a couple of minutes of this movie without being frightened. It’s equally as uncomfortable to look at for adults.

The awful aesthetics don’t stop with the barf-like visuals, as even the audio sounds unfinished. I am not even joking when I say there are obvious inconsistencies with the audio quality, with the volumes of characters’ voices frequently fluctuating and – I kid you not – audible static being heard behind much of the dialogue. I would not be the slightest bit surprised if much of the voice work of the film were comprised of unedited test recordings from the actors.

Goodness, I’ve only touched on the technical aspects of the film thus far. But I’ve delayed the inevitable long enough. The sad truth is, even if the production values boasted even the tiniest shred of not-sucking, Food Fight! would still be utterly abysmal due to its insultingly bad story and narrative structure.

The story of Food Fight! is located in a supermarket called “Marketopolis Supermarket.” During closing hours, the store turns into a city, and the brand named mascots of the store’s food products (called “Ikes,” which is short for “icon,” though the film fails to ever explain that) come to life.

Now, a supermarket equivalent of Toy Story already sounds insulting to Toy Story. But the whole setup is all the worse by how cryptic and nondescript it all is. Food Fight! constantly fails to explain any of the details of its world (does the market actually turn into a city, or does it exist in its own kind of “inside universe” like the video game worlds of Wreck-It Ralph?), and it even seems to contradict its own rules (sometimes the Ikes can interact in the human world during opening hours, other times they just view the world through the logos on their respective items in the store). If I could give out an award to the worst world-building I’ve ever seen, hands down it would go to Food Fight!.

"The face of evil."
“The face of evil.”

The main character in the film is Dex Dogtective (Sheen), a dog detective who also owns a nightclub. His best pal and supposed comic relief is Daredevil Dan (Brady), a chocolate squirrel who has an affinity for crashing his plane. And Dex’s girlfriend is a girl with cat ears named Sunshine Goodness (Duff).

Basically, Sunshine Goodness goes missing just before Dex gets the chance to propose to her. Six months later, in the real world, a representative for a product known as Brand X called “Mr. Clipboard” (Lloyd) pushes Brand X’s products into Marketopolis, to the dismay of the store’s owner, Leonard (Asner). The Brand X Ikes, lead by the mysterious Lady X (Longoria), then begin a hostile takeover of the store, which culminates in a massive food fight (har har) that takes up the third half hour of the movie (most of which is built around recycling the same shot and animation sequence over and over).

"This is Mr. Clipboard. They actually animated him to move this way."
“This is Mr. Clipboard. They actually animated him to move this way.”

Look, it’s just terrible. And in case the plot itself weren’t poorly thought-out enough, the pace of the film displays the troubled production as much as anything else in the movie. Once again, many of the aspects of the story are not explained to the audience, and you can’t help but think that a number of key scenes and expositions were left out of the final film. Many of the scenes of the movie just kind of happen, and several plot elements are dived into rapidly and suddenly, before they’re seemingly forgotten. I’ve probably described this movie as “unfinished” a number of times already, but it’s just an appropriate word when describing Food Fight!. There’s just so much missing from it that it’s jarring.

I could go on and on about all the things wrong with Food Fight!. It’s even filled with sexual innuendos that are pretty inappropriate for a movie aimed at kids (Daredevil Dan hits on Lady X with the line “I melt in your mouth, not in your hand.” which is…eww). I honestly don’t have anything even remotely good to say about it. Food Fight! is simply irredeemably bad.

I’ve seen some terrible animated features in my day, but wow, Food Fight! easily outdoes them all in the “bad movies” department. From its atrocious animation, phoned-in voice work, non-existent world-building, forgettable characters, inappropriate humor, sloppy pacing, bad writing, and all-around stupidity, Food Fight! is undoubtedly the worst animated film I have ever seen.