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Emojis—for those of you still relying on facial muscles to express your feelings—are emotion-communicating icons added to emails and text messages. Smartphone users have hundreds at their fingertips, including “smiley face” and “fist bump.”
By turning these icons into movie characters, The Emoji Movie tells the story of one particular emoji’s breakdown and the ensuing havoc. Inside teenager Alex’s phone, Gene (voiced by T.J. Miller) is a “meh”: His sole duty is to convey a blasé mood. But unlike his fellow emojis, Gene shows more than one emotion.
Alex (Jake T. Austin) presses the “meh” emoji in a text to his crush. But it’s Gene’s first day on the job: He panics, making several different faces, resulting in an embarrassing text.
The cyber sky has fallen. Inside the phone, emoji administrator Smiler (Maya Rudolph) seethes behind her toothy perma-grin. She sends a squad of bots to delete Gene, who goes on the run through the phone’s circuitry, where he encounters spam and viruses. Two other emojis, Hi-5 (James Corden) and Jailbreak (Anna Faris), who’ve also fallen on hard times, tag along. They’re racing against the clock to make things right: Alex is heading to the retailer to have his phone reset.
Hi-5’s one-liners, the film’s yawn-stoppers, include a jab at Facebook. “Friends? What you need are fans who give you unrelenting support.”
The film prizes community over individualism. (Gene asks, “What good is it to be No. 1 if there are no other numbers?”) But it blunders by suggesting freedom is found in “the cloud.” The PG rating doesn’t account for two violations of the Third Commandment. And twice the film seems to minimize suicide: A depressed Gene sits on the edge of a tall building, and Smiler dangles a noose menacingly.