The Emoji Movie trailer is here, for better or worse…

But does an all-star cast justify the film being made at all?

But your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should” – Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park.

The Emoji Movie official trailer was released yesterday in the UK. Now, prior to watching it, there were only two things we really knew about this almost guaranteed summer blockbuster: A) It’s a film directed by Anthony Leondis (the mind behind Lilo & Stitch 2:Stitch has a Glitch, and Igor) and B) Patrick Stewart plays the sh*t Emoji.

It’s safe to say that from the offset things weren’t looking great for cinema going parents in 2017, still reeling from the tired-at-the-point-of-conception Angry Birds and Minions epidemics. The Emoji film then, represents the latest in a string of conceited marketing efforts on behalf of studio executives to force as many people as possible to go and watch the most basely relatable conceptual drivel, because they know it will make them huge amounts of money. Which it almost definitely will.

Before unpacking this phenomenon, it’s worth pointing out that a film centred around “characters” who literally constitute the expression of one solitary emotion is an abysmal starting point for any kind of creative work. Even if it weren’t, the idea of being able to engage an audience with a mobile handset method of reducing speech for ease and speed is equally dicey territory, even by the ever declining standards of Hollywood.

So, what exactly are the pros and cons of The Emoji Movie as shown by the trailer?

It begins by setting up two worlds; the real world, and “the world inside your phone, where everyone is expected to act one way their whole life” as described early on by the main character Gene, the ‘Meh’ Emoji (voiced by T.J. Miller). The basic premise seems to be that Gene feels out of place in a world that forces him to constantly act in a certain way when he has more than one emotion to offer! Flitting back and forth between the two worlds, Gene struggles to find a way to fit in with his fellow pictures, and teams up with Hi-5 (James Corden) and Jailbreak (Anna Faris) to break out of the phone and find the source code that will fix him. Or something. As he can’t quite master his ‘Meh’ routine, when Gene’s user tries to text message a girl he likes in class, the results are problematic, hilarity ensues. Quite where the Emojis are trying to reach when they escape the phone, passed the personified security systems and graphically impressive firewalls isn’t given away in the trailer, but we can probably just assume plot device X and move on without worrying about it too much.

The film as a concept seems to be trying to cross a lot of the same territory as Toy Story and Inside Out, two genuinely groundbreaking films of their times and both heartfelt works of beauty. It exists between the reality of human existence and a world hidden from us but busily working away under the surface. The problem with this is that in both Toy Story and Inside Out, these worlds are not only believable but interesting and thought-provoking, the same of which cannot be said for Emojis, at all. Most every child has wondered at some point what his most cherished toys would get up to when he left the room, if only they could walk and talk and think like us. Similarly, showing the inner workings of the brain of a little girl coming of age as dictated by her still inarticulate emotions made Inside Out a truly magnificent and heartbreaking journey. You understood the connection that all of the characters and thoughts had, and could place yourself in the shoes of everyone involved. Not only are Emojis not at all something that anyone cherishes or even thinks twice about, the inner workings of a smartphone are in no way transformative or comparable to any part of the human condition. There isn’t a magical universe inside my handset that I’m dying to hear the untold adventures of, and even if there were, the fact is that we would still just be talking about a phone. It’s a device we hold in our hands to pass the time until we get the chance to gaze dumbly at a bigger screen or, god forbid, talk to our fellow humans. If my phone broke, I’d just get a new one and would probably be pleased to have a few days without constant notifications.

Without wanting to seem like a grumpy technophobe, the main gripe here really isn’t that it’s a thing that happens on a phone, it isn’t even that it’s even less engaging than a stupid app game (Angry Birds, whereas Wreckit Ralph again was entertaining because these are characters that we all grew up with and loved). It’s that films about childhood should try to actually speak to children, it should mirror the things they care about and that affect them in some kind of profound level, while also being good fun for families to enjoy without feeling like they’re gratuitously being sold something inane. In fairness to the Emoji Movie trailer, there does seem to be a subtext of being comfortable in yourself and not worrying what other people think about you underpinning the film, but then there would kind of have to be to make it in any way worthwhile.

The cast list for the new Sony release is impressive. Patrick Stewart can basically do no wrong in whatever you cast him in, and T.J. Miller (Silicon Valley, Deadpool) is a real force of comic wit. Between these two powerful names, Anna Faris, James Cordon and inexplicably featuring Christina Aguilera, the Emoji film seems to at least deliver quality performances with a glossy sheen and impeccable timing, but you expect that from a Sony family production.

The film will almost definitely be entertaining, as it’s been genetically engineered to be, and for the bored summer holiday parents, may even not be the worst thing released this year amidst an ocean of sequels that nobody anywhere asked for. It’s at least an original idea, you have to give it that, but from what we’ve seen so far, it’s just not really a very good one.

– Max Colbert