Pixar kind of already did this before. In fact, between talking toys and cars, the animated film giant has cornered the market on turning odd concepts into critically acclaimed, box office gold. So it was only a matter of time before someone tried to replicate the formula. Enter Sony Animations’ The Emoji Movie, an obscure idea to turn phone emojis into a kid friendly comedy.
T.J. Miller stars as Gene, a ‘meh’ emoticon who hopes to follow in his parents lethargic footsteps (Steven Wright, Jennifer Coolidge) and present the perfect ‘meh’ face when called upon via text by his teenage user. When Gene crumbles under the pressure, the ‘Smiley’ emoji (Maya Rudolph) sends a horde of robots to take him out before the entire phone is deleted. Gene’s only help is to journey with the forgotten ‘Hi-5’ emoji (James Corden) and a mysterious hacker emoji (Anna Faris) to ‘The Cloud’ where he can be reprogrammed as the perfect ‘meh’.
Filled with enough bad puns to make a 90’s action movie director cringe, The Emoji Movie is relatively short on laughs. James Corden and Patrick Stewart’s ‘Poop’ Emoji provide a few snickers here and there, but not enough to overtake a horde of eye rolls that will undoubtedly accompany most of the people old enough to understand the film’s jokes. When it isn’t failing at puns and sight gags, the movie is trying its best to make social commentary that also feels redundant.
From the start of this predictable narrative, the film’s premise is hard to get behind. The characters that aren’t bland, like Miller’s Gene who is completely void of comedic wit, are just flat out annoying like Rudolph’s insufferable villain. Even the message, “Be Yourself”, feels wholly played out in a children’s film, so Emoji Movie never manages to stand out as something more than a weak copy cat of something we’ve seen done with more originality. Director Tony Leondis deserves credit for some solid visuals and at least making an attempt to be endearing, but by the time the credits role it’s hard to feel any emotion about The Emoji Movie other than… ‘meh’.
FINAL GRADE: D
I’ve never been to Broadway, but it’s safe to say I’m a Stephen Sondheim fan. The man that brought us West Side Story and Sweeney Todd is one of the greatest musical theater composers of the 20th century. Into the Woods, which first hit Broadway in 1987, is just one of his famous works and in the age of Walt Disney, it only makes sense that this story would be adapted for the big screen.
The film, which is an intermingling of several fairy tales, is a splendid romp with a simple premise: Be careful what you wish for. Director Rob Marshall (Chicago) knows his way around a musical and brings Sondheim’s vision to life with the utmost Disney flare. It helps that he has a magnificent cast. Lilla Crawford (who got her start playing Annie on Broadway) and Daniel Huddlestone (Les Miserables) are equally jovial as Red Riding Hood and Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk. James Corden and Emily Blunt have fine chemistry as the Baker and his wife. Anna Kendrick upgrades even more from her Pitch Perfect days as Cinderella while Chris Pine is downright hilarious in his over the top portrayal of the handsome Prince. Of course, it isn’t hard to identify the best performer in a movie with Meryl Streep in it. Streep is captivating from start to finish as the Wicked Witch.
Like with any Sondheim classic, the music is magnificent. If you don’t like musicals, or only find them tolerable, this may not be the movie for you. More than most of the film is sung, but hopefully there is some consolation in the fact that all of the singing is good (There are no Russell Crowe’s here). If you’re a fan of Disney fairy tales, then this should be right up your ally. Sondheim’s music is wisely not tampered with by Rob Marshall, but he still gets to infuse his vision in the stylish costumes and storybook cinematography.
The movie’s final act is its unavoidable biggest flaw. While the story still manages to be emotional and poignant throughout, the execution of the dramatic twists gets a bit sloppy and excessive. One of the characters’ deaths comes so suddenly that it’s almost anti-climactic. But, luckily there is enough magnificent music, brilliant performances, and important life lessons to make Into the Woods a satisfyingly uplifting experience.
FINAL GRADE: B+