I’m a big fan of Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s film podcast (here) and Flixster/Rotten Tomatoes. Both help me choose films to go and see; I don’t go as often as I ought, so I don’t want to blow the best part of £20 (ticket, travels and other bits and bobs) and limited chances for a trip to the cinema on some film that’s got a ‘pants’ rating.
Imagine my glee, then when my two younger daughters agreed – and asked me with them – to go and see The Emoji Movie. At the time my daughters selected it, it had a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 6%, up from 0% a fortnight before. They could have chosen Cars 3 (68%), Despicable Me 3 (61%) or better still Captain Underpants (86%); but nope – the Emoji movie it was.
The rather super thing about having Low Expectations is that at worst, the film is just as expected. So to my surprise the Emoji movie was better than I’d hoped from ‘6% cinema’. It had a – broadly – coherent story. Characters were all one dimensional (but then we are talking emojis) and had generally consistent personas. And the story was resolved to some satisfaction in the end. There were two or three good gags at the beginning (the ’emoticon’s colon’ was the best one of the film) and the pace was – on the whole – OK. So I came out of the film thinking ‘well, that could have been worse’.
There were two problems however. The first was a cod-philosophy which peppered the movie; the subtitle gives it away: “discovering who you are”. It feels like the writers have given about two minutes thought to the question: “so what’s the take-home point of the movie?” and then randomly inserted that philosophy in a rather clunky way. So the (spoiler here) princess-who-is-actually-someone-else-because-she-is-in-the-process-of-discovering-who-she-is character was the least believable of them all – her backstory was spelled out in about two sentences, and then we were meant to have some kind of empathy.
That leads me to the second and bigger problem – craftsmanship. Much has been made on the internet about it’s derivative-ness (see here and here as examples). I think they are right to make that comparison, even though it is an entirely functional summer movie. As a result, though it feels like a film made to fit balance sheet (‘OK guys, we need a kids film for Summer 2017! Roll some Lego Movie/Inside Out/Wreck-It Ralph with some very comtemporanous iPhone idea and get it out quick!’). The problem is that all those comparable films – as modern as they are – are well-crafted, which is why they get decent reviews, and this one doesn’t. Craftsmanship is hard not to admire – indeed I think we’re hardwired by God to appreciate it; I could watch the Incredibles or Toy Story time and time again and enjoy something new about them each time. And although the Emoji Movie was OK – and therefore fine to spend a wet summer morning with your daughters – a good thing to do anyway – it’s not something I expect to delight in time and time again.