Matchup of the Day: The Emoji Movie vs. Inside Out
Inside Out is a film that dares to take us inside the mind of Riley, a preteen girl, on the eve of a big cross-country move that takes her away from her childhood home and drops her into new and unfamiliar territory. The anthropomorphized emotions that rule Riley’s consciousness cause chaos when they conflict over how to handle the new situation.
The Emoji Movie is a film that dares to take us inside the cell phone of Alex, a teenage boy, on the eve of his having a conniption over asking the girl of his dreams, Addie, to a school dance. The anthropomorphized emojis in Alex’s messaging app cause chaos when the wrong emoji is broadcast to Addie’s phone.
As the father of a preteen girl who loved Inside Out just as much as I did, I was unable to avoid The Emoji Movie. After all, my daughter wanted to see it because a) emojis are, apparently, a cool thing and b) she thought The Emoji Movie looked a lot like Inside Out.
In point of fact, the movies are startlingly similar, structurally, and on direct comparison they make an excellent case for just why it is that Pixar continues to be successful while mainstream animated films from other companies (in Emoji‘s case, Sony Pictures Animation) prove more lackluster.
Of the five emotions that rule Riley’s brain, Joy has, until now, commanded Headquarters for most of Riley’s life, keeping Anger, Disgust, Fear and, particularly, Sadness at bay. With the move to San Francisco, however, Sadness begins to taint some of Riley’s “core memories” of her childhood in the Midwest, and Joy tries desperately to maintain control. In the ensuing chaos, Joy and Sadness are swept away to the furthest reaches of Riley’s mind, leaving only Fear, Anger and Disgust to help Riley navigate her new circumstances. Equilibrium is restored only when Joy realizes that the five emotions need to work together, and operate Headquarters in tandem.
Gene is an emoji living in “Textopolis”, a.k.a. the messaging app inside Alex’s cell phone. He’s supposed to be a “meh” emoji, but he can’t stick to only one unenthusiastic face when life in the phone is just so thrilling. When Gene accidentally broadcasts the wrong face as Alex texts his crush, Addie, confusion ensues. The emoji leader, Smiler, sees Gene as a malfunction and seeks to have him eradicated before Alex decides to delete his phone and erase all of Textopolis from existence. Gene goes on the lam with the Hi-5 emoji and the hacker Jailbreak, who turns out to be the fabled missing Princess emoji, as they try to escape from the phone to the cloud. However, it is Gene’s ability to convey more than just one emotion that helps Alex to connect with Addie, and convince him to not erase the entire contents of his phone (including, apparently, family vacation photos) over one errant text message.
Many visual cues and scenarios in The Emoji Movie evoke Inside Out almost directly. The fugitive emojis take an odyssey from app to app just as the emotions journey through the different recesses of Riley’s brain. The music streams that Gene and Jailbreak travel in the Spotify app are not unlike the Train of Thought that Joy and Sadness hitch a ride on in Riley’s mind. When Hi-5 gets sent to the phone’s trash, it strongly resembles the void of subconscious that traps Joy and Riley’s imaginary friend, Bing-bong.
Though similarly constructed, the films feel vastly different; Emoji is in a rush to make gags and zip from one bizarre location to the next, while Inside Out takes the time to flesh out its environments, its characters, and its emotional resonance. Everything in Inside Out is perfectly explained; I can only imagine that someone who had never seen a smartphone before would find The Emoji Movie a completely impenetrable cacophony of chaos.
The message of The Emoji Movie is quite clear, and well-worn, particularly in the context of mass-marketed animated family films: Be yourself. Nobody has to be just that one thing that everybody tells them to be. Gene is able to crack a smile and shed a tear; Jailbreak is savvy and hip, and not just a princess looking for her Prince Charming. Emoji breaks no new ground here, and several notes ring false, particularly the laughable idea that complex emotions can be conveyed by a simple icon in a text message.
Complex emotions, are, however, the very heart of Inside Out. Everybody wants Joy and happiness to rule their existence, but a little Anger, Fear and, indeed, Sadness are necessary. Only when they work in concert can we evolve and grow into our mature selves. And certainly, the audience should run the gamut of feelings while watching Inside Out. (Just try not to get a little misty when you think of Bing-bong.) Many viewers of The Emoji Movie, meanwhile, may simply just experience Disgust.
Ultimately, the only real reason to see The Emoji Movie is for the bizarre incongruity of Sir Patrick Stewart portraying everybody’s favorite emoji, Poop. In fact, this is the first movie I’ve seen that bills him as “Sir” Patrick Stewart, as though to underscore the absurdity of his casting. (At least they make a Star Trek gag.) Then again, the best bit’s in the trailer.
“Aim higher,” Poop tells a fellow emoji who makes an obscene joke at his expense. With their films, Pixar usually does, and that’s why they continue to succeed.