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REVIEW: Kids deserve so much better than ‘The Emoji Movie’

The Art of Nerding Out

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Oh, the things movie studios will foist on us to make a dollar.

“The Emoji Movie” is Hollywood’s latest cash grab that targets kids. It’s a relentlessly unoriginal, bland, boring flick that features lazy writing, unremarkable visuals and voice work from actors that sound like they’d all rather be someplace else.

Heading this rather unenthused cast is T.J. Miller, playing Gene. Gene lives in the city of Textopolis inside a teenager’s phone. Gene is excited to begin work as a “Meh” emoji. But his ability to display multiple facial expressions causes a disaster and soon he and his buddy Hi-5 (James Corden) are on the run from Smiler (Maya Rudolph) and her underlings.

Gene and Hi-5 flee, hoping to find Jailbreak (Anna Faris), who they believe can fix them so they can re-enter Textopolis society. As their quest twists and turns, Gene’s parents (Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge) search for their son and the whole existence of Textopolis hangs in the balance.

This movie is bad. Not aggressively bad, or bad in a way it’s fun. Just pure lazy lowest-common-denominator drudgery. I’d rather watch a C-Span broadcast of Ben Stein narrating beige paint drying on a wall.

Of course, I’m not the target audience. Kids are. And kids deserve so much better than this.

Now there might be a bit of temptation to cut “The Emoji Movie” some slack, specifically because it is a children’s film. But that implies that kids don’t deserve high-quality entertainment. Or maybe it’s a reflection of what studio executives think about the mental faculties of kids. Maybe they just think kids are brainless zombies that don’t care what they watch, so long as the colors are bright and the character designs are cute.

I think that’s a crock. And it’s not like we haven’t seen quality movies aimed at kids. Pixar has a proven track record of excellent storytelling, multidimensional characters, and positive themes. Heck, as bad as it is, even “Cars 2” is loaded with tons of imagination.

And it’s not just Pixar. “How to Train your Dragon”, “Kubo and the Two Strings” and similar films combine appealing characters, epic storytelling, beautiful visuals and genuine emotion, adding up to fantastic entertainment for children.

“The Emoji Movie”? Nah. The creators of this flick were satisfied borrowing elements from stuff like “Wreck-It Ralph” and “The Lego Movie”. Gene’s story arc is something we’ve seen so many times before. It’s a classic and done right, it can still work like gangbusters. But when it’s done as lazily and with as little effort as it is here, it becomes beyond tedious.

Still, this flick’s tired story could be rescued by top-notch voice acting. Unfortunately, “Emoji” doesn’t deliver there, either. Miller and Faris sound disinterested. Corden is supposed to be the comedic relief, but he doesn’t sell his zingers very well. The movie gets extra demerits for wasting Sir Patrick Stewart, who is front and center in the marketing, but doesn’t really get much screen time. Rudolph sounds like she’s trying, so I guess there’s that.

Add in the uninspired visuals that look like they were rescued from “Wreck-It Ralph”’s recycle bin, and you’ve got a movie that fails to do anything other than kill an hour and a half. There are far better option out there for entertaining kid, and this movie offers nothing to entice older viewers. Unless you’re having trouble sleeping. Then you should go see “The Emoji Movie” ASAP.

½ Indy Fedora out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG