REVIEW: What parents should know about ‘The Emoji Movie’ ¦ and is it as bad as critics say?

The Emoji Movie' is 90 minutes of goofiness in search of a theme. Nevertheless, we have to ask: Is it kid-friendly?

Gene is an emoji living within the phone of a timid high school student name Alex.

Gene has arms and legs. He has parents and friends. He even has a residence: Textopolis, a bustling energetic city where other emojis—such as Smiler, Hi-5 and Laughter—reside.

Each emoji has one emotion and one job: perform on cue when Alex pushes their button.

It sounds simple enough, but Gene’s job is not so easy. That’s because his emotion is “meh” (read: I’m not impressed), an emotion that doesn’t come natural. In fact, his emotions run the gamut—and even include joy.

That gets him into trouble one day when Alex pushes his button and instead of a meh emoji, Gene panics and delivers a Frankenstein-looking icon. Even worse: It is sent to Alex’s crush!

Humiliated and threatened by emoji leaders, Gene flees Textopolis with his friend Hi-5 to try and find a hacker who can fix his emotions. And he’s got to do it before a frustrated Alex wipes the phone clean.

The Emoji Movie (PG) opens this weekend, giving us what Sony calls the “never-before-seen secret world inside your phone.” It stars T.J. Miller (Big Hero 6, How to Train Your Dragon) as Gene, comedian James Corden as Hi-5, and Anna Faris (Mom, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) as Jailbreak, the hacker.

It’s easy to mock everything about The Emoji Movie: the plot, the title, even the characters. Count me in that group of critics. Still, I held out hope that it might surprise us with something significant: perhaps a cultural critique on smartphone usage. After all, who better than animated emojis to tell us: Put down your gadgets and spend time with your friends and family!? Or maybe it would provide a serious message about real-life emotions—as in Pixar’s Inside Out. Yet while The Emoji Movie does touch on these issues a little bit, it’s only in passing. Most of it is silly goofiness.

That said, the movie is free of most objectionable content. Here are the details:

Warning: minor spoilers!

Violence/Disturbing Images

Minimal. Characters enter a bar-type setting full of Internet pirates and trolls. The trolls are ugly-looking creatures but are played for laughs. Later, robots chase Gene and his friends and shoot at them with lasers. Throughout the film, characters are “deleted,” as in killed. (It seems they simply disappear.)    


None/minimal. Alex asks his crush, “I just wondered if you were …” but before he can finish, his phone malfunctions and says several words, including “delicious.” A dancer wears a belly-revealing shirt. Alex’s phone accidentally but briefly plays the lyric “bubble butt.”

Coarse Language

None/minimal. One “oh my gosh.” Two instances each of “butt” and “poop.” One expression of the literal acronym “OMG.” An unfinished “sh …” and unfinished “holy ….”  

Christian Images/Dialogue

A character sings a reworked version of the song, “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen,” but never gets to the reference to Jesus. 

Other Positive Elements

Gene’s parents support him after his failure. “I just want to be useful, you know, and fit in,” he says. His mom responds: “Even if you’re a malfunction, your mom and dad still love you.”

Other Negative Elements

One emoji’s name is “Poop”—he looks just like you’d imagine—and he gets plenty of attention in the film. “We’re No. 2!” he and his son cheer as they walk out of the restroom. Later there are jokes with double meaning about wiping and poop not needing to be “too soft.”   

Life Lessons

The movie provides a subtle warning about smartphone and social media usage. After Gene breaks out of Textopolis, he encounters a social app and wonders why people only are talking about themselves. Hi-5 tells him, “That’s what matters in this life—popularity.” Gene responds wisely, “I think I’d rather just have friends.”

Meanwhile, we don’t see much of Alex and his friends, but it’s obvious they’re addicted to their phones. “His whole life revolves around his phone,” the narrator tells us.

Finally, we should ask our kids: What does “meh” really mean? Do you think Jesus would have walked around saying to his disciples and countrymen, “meh”? I doubt it.


Long ago, we as a society talked to one another. Then we started texting. Now, we just send pictures—that is, emojis. The movie tells us: People don’t have time for words.

We’re losing the ability to communicate, but underlying this problem is another problem: We are too busy. We’re too distracted. We don’t want to slow down. A 2015 Microsoft study showed that the average human attention span decreased from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2015. The culprit: screentime.

Of course, God tells us to “be still” and worship him (Psalm 46:10). Perhaps we should put the smartphone away, too.   


It’s a silly film, but minus the bathroom humor, it’s mostly family-friendly.

Movie Partners

Beginning Aug. 8, McDonald’s will begin selling Emoji Movie Happy Meals.

What I Liked

The first 15 minutes was pretty good. The commentary on social media was appreciated. But that’s about it.  

What I Didn’t Like

The rest of the movie. It’s just not that funny or interesting.   

Thumbs Up … Or Down?

I enter every movie wanting to like it. And I tried to like The Emoji Movie. But I didn’t. Thumbs down.

Discussion Questions

1. Do you know someone who is addicted to his/her smartphone? Are you? What are some signs of smartphone addiction?

2. How much time do you spend each day on your smartphone? How much time do you spend in God’s Word/praying/thinking about eternal matters?

3. What are we, as a society, losing by our addiction to social media and texting?

4. Define “meh.” Is that ever a Christ-like reaction?

The Emoji Movie is rated PG for rude humor.

Entertainment rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

TEXAN Correspondent
Michael Foust
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