If you’re going to build an animated film around a concept that’s dumb, flat, goofy, and obvious, and maybe a tad corrupt in its cartoon-to-toy-box opportunism, then you could probably do worse than the idea behind “The Emoji Movie.” On the one hand, it has the feeling of scraping — as in, we’ve had Trolls, Smurfs, and LEGO, now here come the funny-faced “expressive” ideograms on your smartphone. What’s next: “Automated Siri Voice When You’re Put On Hold: The Movie”?
Yet let’s come out and admit that the notion of a digitally animated feature that brings emojis to life does have its hokey-irresistible side. It goes right back to the feeling you had the first time you ever used an emoji — not ironically, but because you saw that it was tapping your inner child in a way that was kind of cool, especially when you realized that yes, you do have your favorites (personally, I lean on Sun With Face, Cowboy Hat Face, and Spaghetti). Any cynicism I might have had about “The Emoji Movie” was knocked away months ago by the film’s very funny trailer, which featured Steven Wright as the morosely indifferent, slightly constipated voice of Mel Meh. That trailer suggested that a seemingly obvious movie might be throwing you curveballs.
The bad news is that “The Emoji Movie” really is meh. There have been worse ideas, but in this case the execution isn’t good enough to bring the notion of an emoji movie to funky, surprising life.
The main character, it turns out, is the son of Mel Meh — a junior grouch-face named Gene (voiced by T.J. Miller), who is getting ready to make his debut in the bustling workplace of emojis. They all live in Textopolis, a city that’s embedded in the phone belonging to Alex (Jake T. Austin), a high-school freshman who keeps texting Addie (Tati Gabrielle), the girl he’s got a crush on. Each day, every emoji — Poop, Crying Face, Heart Eyes, Slice of Pizza — takes his or her place in a…