[Screen It]


(2017) (voices of T.J. Miller, James Corden) (PG)

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Animated Comedy: A multi-expressional emoji who's been targeted for deletion embarks on a journey to become a normal emoji and finds his true self.
Inside the cell phone of a teenage boy named Alex (voice of JAKE T. AUSTIN) exists Textopolis, a society populated by walking, talking emojis who live to be scanned and placed in Alex's texts, e-mails, and other communications. Most emojis have a single emotion and purpose, but not Gene (voice of T.J. MILLER). He was born to Mel Meh (voice of STEVEN WRIGHT) and Mary Meh (voice of JENNIFER COOLIDGE), but he is far from being a humdrum, monotone "Meh." He can summon multiple emotions.

He is soon branded a malfunction and a pariah by the leader of Textopolis, Smiler (voice of MAYA RUDOLPH), who orders him to be hunted down and permanently deleted by her killer robots. Gene decides to run away with the Hi-5 emoji (voice of JAMES CORDEN), who Alex no longer uses in any of his texts or e-mails. They seek to find a hacker named Jailbreak (voice of ANNA FARIS) who is hiding somewhere on Alex's wallpaper filled with icons representing various apps.

Meanwhile, Alex tries to impress his dream girl at school, Addie (voice of TATI GABRIELLE), but his "defective" cell phone keeps getting in the way. It plays songs at weird times and activates old apps like Just Dance and Candy Crush when he doesn't want them. He decides he's going to take his phone to the store in the mall after school and wipe it clean, setting up a ticking clock for Textopolis' possible destruction.

OUR TAKE:4 out of 10
"The Emoji Movie" might have worked and worked REALLY well ... had it been one of those eight- or 10-minute short animated films that run before the feature presentation. As it is, the filmmakers are called upon to sustain a level of sly social commentary, heady humor, and Pixar-level creativity for an hour and a half, and they're just not up to the task.

I'll give writer/director Anthony Leondis and his co-screenwriters Mike White and Eric Siegel credit. They're aiming high here. And by that I mean they're trying to rip off great films like "Inside Out," "The LEGO Movie," and "Wreck-It Ralph" and not "The Angry Birds Movie." But it still plays like a distillation, a facsimile, a variation on a theme.

The film imagines a world inside of a teenage boy's cell phone called Textopolis. The emojis are all real sentient beings who are honored to be picked by the kid, Alex (voice of Jake T. Austin), whenever he texts or e-mails. And the joke is the emojis can only behave according to their very limited personas and programming. So, the Heart Eyes emoji is in love with everything, the Hysterical Laughter emoji guffaws at everything, the Crying Face emoji weeps at everything, etc.

Our hero is Gene (voice of T.J. Miller), who is the son of the male and female "Meh" emojis (voiced by Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge). He is supposed to have perfected the "Meh ... I don't care" face before being placed into Alex's emoji rotation.

But Gene has been uploaded into the phone as an anomaly. He can express a range of emotions. Smiler (voiced brilliantly by Maya Rudolph) is the original first emoji, and is, therefore, the head of Textopolis. Recognizing Gene as a potential threat, she giddily unleashes delete bots to try and wipe him from the phone before Alex in the real world decides to wipe the whole thing.

What follows is a journey across Alex's phone's wallpaper as he and a hacker app named Jailbreak (voice of Anna Faris) and the no-longer-popular Hi-5 emoji (voice of James Corden) seek to ride streams of music, break through a firewall, and find salvation by being uploaded to the Cloud.

The main problem with "The Emoji Movie" is how confused it is about what audience to appeal to. With its light tone and Day-Glo colors, its target here is very young kids. But in real life, most of them don't have cell phones yet and won't get a lot of the references. However, it's not sharp enough to appeal to tweens and teens. If it was, there would have been at least one online porn reference considering Alex's age and obvious tech savvy. Believe me, this is NOT a teenage boy's cell phone! And adults will appreciate bits like the ultra-dry comedian Steven Wright as the Daddy "Meh" and Patrick Stewart as the Poop emoji. But they're not going to last for all 86 minutes.

I did last, though, 'cause it's my job. And I have to say I was surprised that the film was more of a near-miss than an outright disaster. I don't like the message that the cell phone is the be-all and end-all to teens being able to live happily and be socially well adjusted in the real world. But I'll lose that battle. Heck, I'm losing it with my 12-year-old right now. Nevertheless, I rate "The Emoji Movie" a 4 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed July 27, 2017 / Posted July 28, 2017

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