A Meh Experience – Literally
From the very beginning the CG medium has proven itself quite capable of being used to shows us the “hidden world” of inanimate objects. Pixar did it with Toy Story. Garfield Gets Real did it with the newspaper comics section. Wreck-It-Ralph did it with video games. It was only a matter of time before some looked down at their smartphone and thought, yeah! How about a film about what’s going on inside here?
As you might expect, concepts of a city-like circuit board (Textopolis), massive skyscraper-like apps and the little emoji populace being aware of their phone’s owner’s existence are all explored here. Almost directly from mediocre idea to corporate boardroom right on to the big screen. Presumably in that exact order.
Built upon a budget of $50-million, the 86-minute 2018 animated feature film distributed by Sony/ Columbia Pictures managed to turn a very healthy profit: Nearly $87-million at the domestic box office and just under $217-million worldwide. This, despite critical disappointment.
Let’s get right to it – this film is generally berated by critics and only slightly more appreciated by viewers but I’m of the opinion that a lot of that comes from it being an easy target. From afar the concept seems a little too obvious and once you enter into the world Sony created here, such concerns are confirmed almost immediately. They play it pretty safe, stick to all the contrived beats and take no chances.
The story centers on Gene, the son of two meh emojis named Mel and Mary, who possesses the ability to make multiple expressions despite his singular blase’ purpose. In this digitally perfect world, such versatility is considered a malfunction, a glitch, and after Gene manages to screw up a pretty important text between the phone’s owner Alex and his crush, it’s off to the Apple store for a factory reset.
Having established a timetable of impending doom, Gene and a few cohorts (obsolete Hi-5 and hacker Jailbreak) make a laborious trek across the phone and its myriad of apps to reach the safety of the cloud before its clean slate for everybody.
As far as I can tell, the main complaint centered around the disgust of this film is that it even exists in the first place; that the collective world did not need a story about an emoji learning to accept the fact that he’s unique. To a degree, there is truth to this. However, that’s not to say there are no comedic moments along the way. And somewhere deep inside, there are hints of better developed movies showing through. Pixar’s Inside Out cleverly demonstrated how the concept of a singular emotion could have trouble interacting with other emotions. And based on trailers alone, it looks like Wreck-It-Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet will very similarly show its protagonists visiting various apps and sites on the web in a populated digital world/ cityscape. It will be interesting to see whether critics who so harshly expressed the lack of logic in this approach here in Emoji will voice similar complaints in a film backed by the much more PR-heavy Disney.
All in all, perhaps paying full theater pricing to watch The Emoji Movie could have been grounds for some justified complaints but now that it is available to purchase on the DVD/ blu scene, able to be rented and appearing as a stream option on many of the popular digital services, there are certainly worse ways to kill an hour and a half.
Besides, say what you will about the lack of cleverness here but you have to admit, a few of the film’s tag lines were pretty on point: It’s Not Easy Being Meh & An Adventure Beyond Words prove someone involved in all of this had a sense of humor.