Smiley faces finally get their own 15 minutes of fame

The Emoji Movie. Directed and co-written by Tony Leondis. Featuring T.J. Miller, James Corden and Anna Faris. Rating: 5 (out of 10)
 
The Chicken Littles of moviedom have been clucking like mad ever since The Emoji Movie was announced, sure that a film based on smartphone emoticons must surely signal the end of motion pictures as we know it.

What these cinema cynics forget is that there have already been scores of films made about theme park rides (Pirates of the Carribean, The Country Bears), video games (Warcraft, Tomb Raider) and cell phone apps (Angry Birds). Stars like Angelina Jolie and Michael Fassbender are readily signing on to play the likes of Lara Croft and Aguilar, so should we be surprised that Sir Patrick Stewart pops up as a Poop emoji?

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Those who still think that the government is spying on them through their microwave will be terrified to hear that hidden inside every cell phone is a tiny universe called Textopolis, where emojis eagerly wait to be selected by human texters and sent in a message. Gene (voiced enthusiastically by Office Christmas Party’s T.J. Miller) is a meh emoji who just can’t help but bust out with all sorts of unregulated emotions. This lands his human text-master Alex (Jake T. Austin) in all sorts of trouble with his high school crush and puts Gene squarely in the crosshairs of the powers-that-be – the ubiquitous smiley, for one – in Textopolis.

Smiler (Maya Rudolph), is a familiar character in the real-life world of grown-ups, that gal who delivers even the most venomous news with a pasted-on smile. Poop (Stewart) is also not amused. Hard to tell if Gene’s meh parents (Jennifer Coolidge, Steven Wright) are worried or not but their son and his reject sidekick, Hi-Five (James Corden) travel through several apps looking for the miracle code that will cure Gene of his multiple personalities. They are joined by Jailbreak (Anna Faris), a codebreaker emoji who likewise doesn’t conform to expectations.

It’s difficult to compete with the similar – and superior – concepts explored in Inside Out and Wreck-It Ralph, and the oft-travelled “be true to yourself” moral of the story is, well, meh. The only real drama associated with the film is whether or not Charlize Theron will have her action film Atomic Blonde obliterated by sunny smileys on opening weekend.

But there is some fun voicework (by Sofia Vergara, Christina Aguilera, Sean Hayes, and Rob Riggle), some bright and shiny animation and the usual quotient of poop jokes, if that’s your thing. Plus, since Despicable Me 3 the bar for animated kids’ fare isn’t exactly set sky high. But no, The Emoji Movie won’t have you ROFL, LOL or LMBO: and if you don’t know what those mean, you might as well stay home.

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