The Emoji Movie

This is the funniest thing I’ve seen since the last Nanna Day when I accompanied friend Deb and her grandchildren to the movies and we saw Despicable Me 3. And THAT was the funniest movie since the previous time I got invited along to see Storks, and before that it was Zootopia and before that Shaun the Sheep.

The thing is, Deb and I invariably end up laughing more than the kids do. Is it just us or are kids’ movies funnier than adult comedies? I have to go back to August 2016 to find the last adult comedy I loved: the Ricky Gervais vehicle David Brent: Life on the Road.

Anyway, The Emoji Movie is wildly imaginative fun. There are two settings, two parallel stories. It all starts in Textopolis, where the emojis live, and where you might bump into the high-heeled shoe, the sneaker, the eyes, the arm with biceps. The latter is a bit of a tough, incidentally, and there’s a wonderful gag involving him and the bump fist. An accidental brushing in the street causes the biceps to complain of the fist “He’s such a knucklehead!”

There are oodles of such verbal/visual gags. In the bustling streets of Textopolis, as in any other big city, you have to watch where you’re going. A face emoji accidentally walks into an emoticon – one of those punctuation mark images – and causes it to stumble. “Hey, mind the elderly,” says a passer-by. And the barbecued shrimp – and yes, there it is on my iphone – is an Aussie who says “G’day mate” to everyone he meets.

Two stories, two heroes. In Textopolis our hero is Gene, a ‘face’ who’s due to start working as the ‘meh’ emoji, but who can’t control his impulses to express the full range of emotions: happiness, surprise, sorrow and, eventually, love. Then there’s the real world where we meet Alex, a high-school boy trying to impress a pretty female classmate. Needless to say they communicate mostly by texting. The emojis on Alex’s smartphone all want to be chosen by Alex, because popularity is what all emojis strive for, and the plot starts with Alex’s friend advising him to play it cool with the girl of his dreams by sending her a ‘meh’.

So Gene is chosen, but he stuffs up this first mission, arriving on the girl’s screen as a weird, vaguely scary face. This leads to suspicions in Emoji Central (ruled over by Smile, a grinning tyrant whose status as the most popular emoji has gone to her head) that Gene might be a malfunction, and the big danger to them all is that Alex will have his phone and all its digital life forms erased. Alex makes an appointment at the phone shop, which of course the emoji controllers (bits of circuitry carrying clipboards) know about because Alex has put it on his phone, so Gene vows to get himself re-programmed so he can do ‘meh’ without panicking, and save the day.

He’s joined in his quest by the high-five emoji, who’s also looking for transformation because he’s become unpopular and he shows Gene where unpopularity can lead – to the Losers’ Lounge, where unwanted and unused emojis like the suitcase (and some others I couldn’t identify!) spend their time drinking and gambling.

But High Five knows of an even grungier secret place on Alex’s phone where there’s ugly heavy metal music and foul language (because teenage boys know how to hide such forbidden digital fruit) where he might find the hacker called Jailbreak, who turns out to be a one-time princess emoji who’s quit her post, dyed her hair blue and gone all punk because she doesn’t want to do the girly stereotype. She agrees to help them and now begins a race-against-the-clock as they try to make it to Dropbox and thence to the safety of The Cloud.

At one stage they get stuck in Candy Crush which Alex is about to delete so they end up in the Trash, where they find Spam (who never stops trying to sell them rubbish) cat videos, and assorted miserable trolls who assure them they’ll never get out and that in 30 days WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!!!

But in the Trash they also happen to find an old email that Alex has sent to his girl, addressing her by name. Maybe he’s used her name as his password – yes! So now they can get past that firewall and into his Dropbox…but will they make it before Smile’s evil bots get to them or Alex erases his phone?

Despite all the millennial pop culture silliness The Emoji Movie has all the classic old-fashioned story elements: a quest, evil to be vanquished, good to triumph, love to be won. It espouses modern but wholesome values along the lines of ‘be true to yourself and don’t be ashamed to express feelings for other people’. More than once we hear a character say ‘the trouble with looking out for number one is that there’s no point if there are no other numbers around’, and you can’t argue with that.

I thought it was wonderfully hilarious and yes, Deb and I once again ended up laughing more than the kids did.

This review was first published on Facebook in October 2017