In late 2014, the hack of Sony resulted in the publishing of private emails that much of the internet had a great time laughing at. One item considered particularly risible in certain corners was a pitch to the co-chairwoman of Sony Pictures Entertainment from a sort of youth consultant, averring that “NBD,” shorthand for no big deal, was popular text speak among millennials and that it should be used as dialogue in a new “Spider-Man” movie.
Sony’s latest release, “The Emoji Movie,” features among its heroes a female computer hacker who at one point shrugs off a crisis by saying “NBD.” I’m not sure this is an indication of abject cluelessness, or if it represents what I believe some millennials call a self-own.
This film is exactly what its posters would lead you to believe it is: an animated narrative film about emoji. It tells the story of Gene (voiced by T. J. Miller), who is a “meh” emoji but who is capable of making more expressions than the blasé one he has been assigned. His versatility is considered a malfunction, even, to some extent, by Gene himself. This leads the effusively smiling leader of the emoji to lobby for Gene’s deletion from the phone on which he lives.
The rationalization this movie uses for the anthropomorphization of the emoji is weak, to put it mildly. But once that has been taken care of, Gene goes on his hero’s quest in search of the cloud, where he seeks to be reprogrammed so he can do the job he takes so much pride in. He of course has a bumbling sidekick (a high-five emoji) in tow. They enlist the help of the hacker Jailbreak and move through the corridors of their phone. Much labored app humor follows.
For a long time, Hollywood has been propagating the idea that the panderingly, trendily idiotic can be made to seem less so, by polishing it up with bright shiny gloss and enlisting engaging talented performers and writers. I can’t be entirely certain of this, but I would say “The Emoji Movie” takes this notion to the outer limits of credibility. The voice cast is full of name actors, some of whom have genuine appeal. One of the screenwriters is the very astute Mike White. This movie’s “believe in yourself” message is borne out, in a perverse way, by the very fact that it even exists. And yet the whole thing remains nakedly idiotic. To add to the pain and despair of the experience, “The Emoji Movie” is preceded by a short, “Puppy,” featuring the characters from the “Hotel Transylvania” animated movies. It is also idiotic.
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