In The Emoji Movie, a malfunctioning Meh emoji named Gene (T.J. Miller) escapes from a text app so he can be reprogrammed (and subsequently saved from deletion) by an infamous hacker. He travels though a teenager's smartphone with a washed-up High-Five emoji (James Corden) who hopes the hacker can make him popular again.
We went to see The Emoji Movie at 9:30AM at a Times Square movie theater, just so the experience would be a little bit worse than it had to be. We don’t recommend you see the movie, but we do recommend you understand it, for your own protection. With that in mind, we’ve broken down this movie into the emotions it will make you feel, and because we love a theme, we did it with emoji.
[red X emoji]
Warning: Emoji Movie spoilers, all the way up to the end of the film, lie ahead.
The Emoji Movie opens with a voiceover from T.J. Miller proselytizing about the glory of the smartphone, which, as it turns out, is not a great way to start a movie. “The world we live in,” he says, referring to a smartphone, “it’s so wonderful, mysterious, and magical.” Of course, his magical world will soon be blown to metaphorical smithereens by a deranged Smiley Face Emoji and her army of bots. The Emoji Movie never decides whether technology will ruin our lives or save them, but it remains convinced it has to be one or the other.
The smartphone owner, named Alex, sits in a history class while his teacher rambles on about hieroglyphics. The teacher asks the class what hieroglyphics remind them of, winking so hard his eyeball almost pops out of the side of his head. They remain silent, pubescent, transfixed by their phones. The audience strains to keep the answer to themselves. The audience pleads with the class to answer the question, but they are so dumb, they have no idea what he could mean.
Meanwhile, Alex asks his snotty friend what he should text to his crush Addie, in response to something she said earlier that day. What she texted was never revealed, but Alex decides to send a single emoji in response. “Words aren’t cool,” his friend says, in a perfect bit of dialogue that effortlessly captures how teens really feel. Words aren’t cool echoes into the back of the theater and reverberates off the skulls of adults, now terrified, unsure their mindless spawn can even speak a verbal language.
The thumbs-up emoji has abs.
Hi-5 takes Gene to the Loser Lounge, a place in Alex’s messaging app where all the rarely used emoji, like the Fishcake, Grandma, and Broom all hang out and think about their pointless, idiotic emoji lives. Here, the writers had a chance to be thoughtful or maybe even sweet. What’s it like to be an outcast emoji? Are you always waiting for some niche meme to bring you to the app’s surface? Instead, they toss in a “Bye, Felicia” joke, confirming they don’t know who this movie is for, or what year it is.
[Monkey Covering his Mouth Emoji]
Gene and Hi-5 go into the “piracy app,” a grungy dive bar populated by internet trolls, spam, and the animated members of Twisted Sister. (You know, all that classic hacker stuff.) They finally meet a hacker named Jailbreak, and, in the greatest twist in cinematic history, the hacker turns out to be a woman.
Here, about midway through The Emoji Movie, the writers decide to ignore the plot in favor of a greater purpose: chastising teens about their social media use. As Gene and Hi-Five walk past the Facebook app, Hi-Five takes a moment to point out that this whole smartphone thing is actually super sad, and Alex is a total loser with no friends. “None of these people know him,” says the Hi-Five emoji trapped in a phone, referring to his human boy master. “They like him.” In case you missed it, the “like” here is referring to a Facebook Like — another classic bit of subtle Emoji Movie wit.
Any pretense of storytelling gets thrown out the window as our emoji crew stops to play some quick nonessential games of Candy Crush and Dance Now, which basically act as elaborate commercials for apps desperately trying to hold onto their waning relevance. At one point, Gene tries to teach Jailbreak how to dance, telling her, “Feel the music, express yourself.” She responds by asking, “Through dance?” proving herself to be a smooth and natural conversationalist. Later, in her usual coherent way, Jailbreak tells her boys, “Keep it super DL.”
[Bag of Money emoji]
Some lucky apps get prime placement in The Emoji Movie. Dropbox, for starters, is the portal to the perfect ethereal world of The Cloud, and is referenced by name at least 47 times. Spotify is a mystical wonderland full of sparkling rivers and romantic tunes, like Omi’s 2015 hit “Cheerleader” and Silentó’s 2015 hit “Watch Me (Whip / Nae Nae).”
Alex’s phone also has Twitch, YouTube, WhatsApp, Shazam, and dozens of other apps. (Boys do always have way too many apps on their phones.) This part of The Emoji Movie is accurate, and hopefully profitable for everyone. It’s so nice when people make money. Is there anything nicer?
Gene finally explains his inner turmoil to Jailbreak. Here are some details about Gene: he wants friends. He has feelings. He cares about others. “This is my malfunction,” he says. (Lizzie and Kaitlyn are crying weakly at this point, with no real faith left that there is any human being anywhere who has ever cared about a person.)
“What good is it to be number one if there aren’t other numbers?” he asks, and Jailbreak responds, in a shocked whisper, “Wow, that is actually kind of cool.” This is a movie about how words aren’t cool, but you can still expect a girl to fall at your feet in response to mild wordplay. Please keep up. Or throw whatever device you’re reading this on into the ocean. Send me a postcard; tell me what it’s like to be free.
[woman with a macbook emoji]
Jailbreak’s wig-hat combo is knocked off while she’s dancing, revealing princess hair and a crown that is apparently part of her skull. Later, we find out her name is Linda. Linda is trying to escape from Alex’s phone to someplace with less restrictive gender roles.
Oh, yeah, by the way, this is also a movie about feminism. As Linda says at one point, apropos of nothing, “SLAY!”
Gene’s parents go looking for him, but they take a break to have a romantic moment inside a photo of Paris, inside Alex’s Instagram account. They say, “We’ll always have Paris,” a reference to a movie from 1942.
[skull emoji, ghost emoji, skull and crossbones emoji, rose-with-a-petal-falling-off emoji]
Gene and pals discover that Alex has a crush on a girl named Addie. They deduce this by reading an email he wrote to her but never sent. The text of the email is:
You’re a shooting star I see
A vision of ecstasy
So shine bright tonight, you and I
We're beautiful like diamonds in the sky
And then a high-five emoji.
Here is a list of people and corporations responsible for the existence of The Emoji Movie: production company Sony Pictures Animation, star T.J. Miller, distributor Columbia Pictures, writer Eric Siegel, writer Mike White, director Tony Leondis, original motion picture soundtrack contributor Ricky Reed, and all the Angry Birds (2016) guys, probably. We aren’t going to give you their email addresses, but they probably aren’t that hard to find.
The deus ex machina in this film is a Twitter icon. Jailbreak and Hi-5, stranded in The Cloud after Gene is kidnapped by some virus bots, use Jailbreak’s secret princess powers to summon an animated blue bird. It flies them back into the phone on its back. I don’t fucking know.
Alex is going to delete everything off his phone because it played music out loud a few times and sent a weird emoji once. So to save all of the emoji and the entire “world” of Alex’s phone, Gene cooks up an animated multi-face emoji that’s part blush, part kiss-face, part smile, and all romance, baby. Jailbreak sends this one emoji and no words to Alex’s crush, who then compliments him on being “one of those guys who can actually express his feelings.”
As these words come out of Addie’s mouth, Lizzie’s head falls off her neck and rolls under the seat in front of her, and then steadily makes its way to the front of the theater, picking up flecks of popcorn and stray Skittles as it goes.
After Alex’s phone successfully seduces the teenage girl of his dreams for him, he decides not to delete everything off of it and announces, affectionately, “Maybe it’s weird, but I’m gonna hold onto it.” His faith is restored. This is a modern bildungsroman. In auditorium 9, in the AMC on 42nd street, in New York, New York, several people cheer.
Kaitlyn has to go pick up Lizzie’s head, but it’s sort of hard because she’s aged 70 years in the time she’s been watching The Emoji Movie, and all her muscles have atrophied.
[woman getting a head massage emoji]
When The Emoji Movie finally ends, Lizzie and Kaitlyn somehow manage to exit the movie theater through a Dave & Busters and emerge into mid-morning Times Square to see that the sidewalk is completely obstructed by at least 300 people trying to get into Madame Tussauds wax museum. At this point, Lizzie stops in her tracks and screams, “I hate it here,” in the tone of voice that usually precedes a full-body sob. Passing a group of singing children being ushered through the 42nd Street subway station in a single-file line that blocks just about every turnstile and staircase, Kaitlyn shouts, “Why would you encourage these children to yell?” at whoever is in charge. Then Lizzie and Kaitlyn wait for a delayed 2 train with their hands over their mouths.
Sitting down to write this review, Lizzie says, “I don’t think I can say anything funny about this, because it makes me want to die.” At least she can actually express her emotions, even if she does have to use words to do it.