Summer is soon coming to a close and the fine people at Sony have blessed us with their latest, The Emoji Movie. The film follows an emoji who is different from the rest and must find a way to protect himself after he is shunned for his differences. Despite only being released this weekend, The Emoji Movie has been torn apart by critics for many reasons.
One of the most recurring criticisms regards how the film is “inspired by” such films as Toy Story, Inside Out and Wreck-It Ralph. Despite that being accurate, it can also be heavily argued that the film also “takes inspiration” from the highly acclaimed animated drama Anomalisa, which was written and co-directed by Charlie Kaufman. Both films discuss the link between conformity and artificiality, societal norms, the yearning to belong, and finding love in social anomalies, therefore Anomalisa should also be discussed when talking about the films that The Emoji Movie “took inspiration” from.
The major parallel that both films share (besides being animated features from this decade) is that they are grounded by the common theme of conformity linked to artificiality. In Anomalisa, everyone is a puppet, both literally and metaphorically. In literal terms, because the film was created using stop motion animation with puppets and the characters are mostly voiced by one actor. Metaphorically, this is because they all act and emote like one individual person at all times. They mostly have one sole voice and no distinction between them. The Emoji Movie also delves into that same theme. All of the emojis are literal puppets in the sense of how they are an artificial technology on smartphones used at the will of the owner of said phone, the puppet master. While everyone has a different emotion, they must never have them at any time and must conform to who they are supposed to be.
Through this theme is where we discover the ideas of standing out, as well as shunning outside ideas and those that go against the grain. In The Emoji Movie, Gene Meh (T.J. Miller) stands out because of his ability to convey more than one emotion as an emoji. People around him, including his parents, call his ability a “malfunction” in order to really allow him to stand out amongst the others. In Anomalisa, the character of Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) also stands out to Michael Stone (David Thewlis) because she has her own unique voice, personality and feelings, unlike everyone else in the film. Because of this, he calls her “Anomalisa” to further emphasize how much she stands out to him. As for the latter idea, Gene is shunned for having more than one emotion which leads to the potential ruining of the world he lives in, therefore also ruining his reputation as an emoji. Michael parallels this at the end of Anomalisa when he breaks down during his big speech, telling the audience how he has “no one to talk to” and how he “wants to cry, but… can’t” before telling them how they’ve allowed their society to go “down to the tubes.” Like Gene, Michael is also humiliated and shunned with his reputation just as tarnished. Through this common link of conformity and artificiality, both films are able to discuss more complex themes with that as its grounding point.
By using that central theme as a jumping off point, both films dig further into conformity and expressing one’s true self. One of these ideas is the concept of discovering one’s purpose outside of the traditional social norm. We see this in The Emoji Movie with Jailbreak (Anna Faris) who wants to avoid what is expected of her and live freely in the Cloud. In Anomalisa, Lisa wants to “be the one to walk in the sun” as she puts it and be her own person instead of the anxiety ridden soul that she currently is. This also brings to mind another parallel between Jailbreak and Lisa: Both use pop music from the 1980’s as a way to symbolize their longing to achieve their purposes. In the case of Jailbait, her song is “Wake Me Up (Before You Go Go)” by Wham! and Lisa’s song is “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper. Both tracks are uplifting, which provide the characters with the positive reinforcement that they will be who they want to be.
Contrasting the theme of discovering purpose, is the desire to belong in a world that goes against the thoughts of the protagonists. Both Gene and Hi-Five desperately want to belong. Gene shows this in his mission to make the right face when he is selected by Alex in order to feel just like the other “normal” emojis. Hi-Five wants to be one of Alex’s most popular emojis again in order to regain his popularity. In the case of Anomalisa, while Lisa does have these feelings to a small extent, Michael is the one who truly feels the need to belong. While he brings joy to people through his career, he still feels incredibly distant from the people around him, from loved ones to people on the street. He wants to connect and belong, but never finds a way to successfully do so.
Finally, both films parallel in how they approach the romances of their respective protagonists. In both films, the main characters find love in each other through how they’re unlike everyone else around them. This is seen in Gene and Jailbreak, as well as Michael and Lisa. Not only do they fall for each other due to being outcasts, but both couples also fall in love over an extremely short period of time. While Michael and Lisa never work out because of their differences, Gene and Jailbreak do thanks to that same reason. Through being different, both couples seem to find each other in a world full of nothing but sameness.
The parallels between both The Emoji Movie and Anomalisa are so plentiful that it’s almost like they’re the same movie. However, there is one difference that truly sets them both apart: The quality in execution. Anomalisa is not only one of the finest cinematic achievements of the decade (if not of all time), it’s also a brilliant piece of art that showcases the blind, sheep-like nature of society, while also creating a bleak and lonely world for those who don’t adhere to the societal norms established in the film. Despite being a dark and depressing drama, the film is also quite funny, self-aware, intelligent and touching, as we watch Michael, Lisa and their chemistry together. The Emoji Movie, on the other hand, is one of the worst films of the decade (if not of all time) and represents everything wrong with contemporary cinema. It panders to a demographic that’s too young to understand how to use a cellphone properly and responsibly, it has absolutely no self awareness or intelligence, it never does anything unique or promising when it discusses it’s themes, and the product placement makes the blatantly shameless McDonald’s dance number in Mac and Me look subtle and nuanced in its own product placement.
While both films share similar themes, what makes them stand apart is the overall quality of and the effort put into the films. This can also be applied to all of the films that The Emoji Movie rips off, and also shows just how lazy the filmmakers, as well as Sony Pictures Animation were in making this film. By robbing the themes of better animated films, they show that they don’t understand what makes Inside Out, Toy Story, Anomalisa and Wreck-It Ralph resonate as well as they do with audiences, and therefore, the final product fails miserably. Instead of subjecting yourself, your children (or both) to the pandering, tone deaf stupidity of The Emoji Movie, watch the better animated films that it ripped off instead.
(Featured Image: The Emoji Movie, Columbia Pictures)