'The Emoji Movie' and 'Ralph Breaks the Internet': How do they compare?
January 14, 2019
I’ll watch cringy movies so you don’t have to! Email me with any recommendations.
Based six years after the first movie, "Ralph Breaks the Internet" is the sequel to Disney’s 2012 "Wreck It Ralph." The same beloved characters are made to explore the internet as a literal, physical location, bustling with mindless avatars and skyscrapers plastered with brand names.
Internet users travel via "search engines" to different website headquarters. The slums of the internet are where hackers and virus bots reside, whereas websites like Oh My Disney and eBay are heavily featured. Other recognizable sites are replaced with clever puns. YouTube and Buzzfeed, for example, are renamed "BuzzzTube," which is considered the breeding ground for trending videos. It is, essentially, a city full of brand deals and product placement.
In order to make real-world money to buy a steering wheel from eBay, Ralph is forced to reenact numerous humiliating trends that lead to Ralph -- quite literally -- "breaking the internet." Disney Princess cameos, first-person racing games and unboxing videos make brief appearances, providing some relatability to modern day tech users.
Despite receiving a positive critical acclaim, as well as being nominated for the 76th Golden Globe Awards for Animated Feature Film, I had mixed feelings regarding the movie when I saw it in theater.
I loved the original and the sequel was cute, with a good message about friendship and self-esteem. The budget of about 175 million meant it was very high-quality, as Disney is known for, but the premise itself gave me vivid flashbacks to Sony’s 2017 attempt at humor, "The Emoji Movie."
The two films are close to identical in quality. Their animation style is colorful and plotlines are difficult to keep up with. While their protagonists are different in design and motivations, both movies make an attempt to touch on modern-day issues, such as social media and the need for instant gratification.
In "The Emoji Movie," emoticons such as the poop emoji or the "meh" face, live and thrive in every person’s cell phone. Each phone app is it’s own unique world, including the "Just Dance" app, YouTube, Instagram, "Candy Crush" and many more.
The main character, a "meh" emoji named Gene, is essentially the divergent of this story. He has the ability to change his expressions and this gets him into trouble as he botches an important text conversation.
In search of a codebreaker who can make him "normal," he wades through the matrix of phone applications while evading capture from software bots. Along the way he and his friends learn lessons about friendship, being yourself, blah, blah, blah.
I first saw the movie in my sister’s basement on a projection screen, sitting on a cold concrete floor with one of my nieces. She enjoyed the movie, likely because she was six at the time, but the only scene I found worthy of acclaim was the main characters’ trip through Spotify.It was accompanied by a neon flash of colors and light that the projector beautifully cast across my niece’s hair. It’s too bad the rest of the movie didn’t hold up.
The movie-makers seem to have this idea that the lives of teenagers revolve around their phones. Whether this is true or not is debatable, and could trigger an entirely different article on cell phone usage and millennial culture. I’d like to think this concept was purposefully exaggerated to justify their already meagre plot.
Honestly, this movie is the equivalent of keyboard smashing and hoping autocorrect will make some sense out of utter jargon. The script relies heavily on stereotypes and cheap jokes. Within the first ten minutes of the movie, no kidding, a poop joke was made, followed by a fart joke and a toilet joke, another poop joke, two more jokes that should not be in a kid’s movie, and then another poop joke. Not a great first impression.
While re-watching the movie I had to take several breaks to fortify myself. Deep self-reflection was required, as I pondered if I was really bored enough to watch this movie.
Throughout the entire rewatch, disappointment was my primary emotion. It’s a true wonder how talented actors such as James Corden, T.J. Miller and Sir Patrick Stewart were roped into this hot mess. Sir Patrick Stewart, who was knighted by the Queen of England due to his profound performances, played the poop emoji. This, truly, was one of the most disturbing factors yet.
T.J. Miller plays Gene, the malfunctioning "meh" emoji that desperately wants to fit in. Miller is a comedian who played minor parts in "Ready Player One" and "Deadpool," neither of which are suited to young audiences. He has a raspy, sweet, perpetually excited voice that is unique to him and makes the character bearable, but starring in this film has truly not done him any favors.
I’d like to think that Miller had a deep understanding that, "Yes, this movie is literally the embodiment of the poop emoji, but I’m going to have fun anyways."
His co-star and sidekick, James Corden, plays a hand emoji named Hi-5. The character is incredibly obnoxious. His only purpose is to move the plot along with a stupid smile and an excuse as why he just had to press the big red button that ended up killing a good portion of the cast.
Anna Faris plays the character Jailbreak. Jailbreak is a feminist former-princess emoji with supposed hacking skills. Her character had so much potential, with the charisma and confidence to easily be the story’s savior. Instead she was sidelined as just another sidekick, delegated to delivering witty commentary and exposition. So. Much. Exposition. It was clear they didn’t spend much time on scriptwriting.
The budget for this movie was a great deal less than "Ralph Breaks the Internet," costing about $50 million and grossing $86.1 million in the United States with a worldwide total of $217.8 million according to Box Office Mojo. Other reviewers called it a “callous cash grab” and looking at the stats, I agree wholeheartedly. They made brand deals that were unnecessarily expensive and blatantly irrelevant to the plot.
Did "The Emoji Movie" really, really need a scene where they literally just played Candy Crush? Did they truly require a dance-off scene in the "Just Dance" app? Yes, they did, apparently, because they didn’t have enough quality content to fill an hour and a half.
However, the budget was well-spent on animation. The design is smooth and colorful, detailed where it mattered and minimalistic where it didn’t. After the re-watch, my favorite scene is still the moment where they take a gondola through Spotify’s music streams. It embodies everything the movie has to offer; color and energy, a few emotional moments, music you could dance to and T.J. Miller’s childlike wonder. The animation and Miller’s performance were truly the only redeeming factors.
Ultimately, it’s a movie for children. Of course the plot is unrefined. Of course they make stupid references and poop jokes. Sony isn’t in the business of making award-winning movies.
It’s hard to make movies that are up-to-date with the latest slang and jokes. By the time "The Emoji Movie" was released, after nearly two years of work, all the memes and references were old hat (#truth, amiright? YOLO!). Our perception of the Internet had evolved during the time it took Sony to produce the movie - no wonder adults thought it was horrible.
I had expected absolutely nothing from "The Emoji Movie," understanding from the very beginning that it was for kids; and yet, I expected a lot more from "Ralph Breaks the Internet." Disney is a worldwide phenomenon, a multi-million dollar company, the go-to for original content. I expected nostalgia, beautiful animation, intricate plots and well-made characters, but I was instead met with the same movie, just with a bigger budget.
To make a long story short, don’t waste the money, the time, or the brainpower to see either one.
In a few short months, movies like "The Emoji Movie" and "Ralph Breaks the Internet" will be considered irrelevant, and another cringy trend will take their place.
"The Emoji Movie" said it best, “The pace of life is getting faster and faster, and attention spans are getting shorter and shorter . . . one day, all of this will blow over, and everyone will almost forget about what you did.”
Sony and Disney can try their best to hide "the cringe" behind shiny animation and talented voice actors, but as always, reviewers like me will be there to thoroughly critique them. That, you can rely on.
Kacey Joslin is a former student at UW-River Falls.