Gene is a “meh” emoji living inside of a teenage boy’s phone in which everyone is supposed to express only one emotion all the time as part of their job. But Gene has a problem: he can express every single emotion except the one he’s programmed for. When Gene screws up on his first day of work when he makes the wrong face when being scanned for a text message, he is promptly sentenced to death (yikes!), with the reasoning being that he could be seen as a “malfunction” and cause for their phone’s content to get deleted by their user as a result. Now on the run, Gene teams up with a High Five emoji to find Jailbreak, a hacker who’s capable of reprogramming Gene so he can do his job properly and not get terminated by malware bots.

To say that The Emoji Movie has been met with negative press would be something of an understatement. Named by some entertainment websites as “the worst reviewed animated movie of all time” (even though that consensus is somewhat misleading, given that the film has only 50 collected reviews on Rotten Tomatoes compared to the usual 150), the film’s become the butt of internet jokes over the last few months, even being labeled as the sixth worst movie of all time by IMDB’s infamous (and often misused) “Bottom 100” poll. That’s more than a little harsh, but it also begs a question: is The Emoji Movie really that bad, or are people simply eager to make fun of an animated movie with a very silly concept? And, make no mistake, it is an almost inescapably stupid idea to attempt to create a film franchise around talking emojis. But does that make The Emoji Movie unwatchable?

The short answer? No. In fact, if anything, The Emoji Movie is probably better than it deserves to be, fast-paced, colorfully animated, and taking full advantage of its comedic voice cast. This is not to say that The Emoji Movie is great–or even necessarily good–but for a movie that technically shouldn’t work at all, it does go down pretty easily. You’re not going to get Pixar-level meat here, but as far as harmless and cheeky laughs are concerned, you can do a lot worse than The Emoji Movie.

One of the biggest strengths of the film (or weaknesses, depending on who you ask) is its jokes about the world wide web, of which there are plenty. In one sequence, the movie’s heroes enter a piracy application, which is essentially the Mos Eisly Cantina from Star Wars if it were populated by internet trolls, Trojan horses, and incredibly eager email spam. In another, a YouTube video about a cat is used to divert the bad guys. And there are bad/good puns galore, many of which involving the emojis which people almost never actually use. The lively humor does help considering the story is essentially a less clever version of Wreck-It Ralph re-downloaded, complete with a spunky heroine with a hidden backstory (what it doesn’t resemble, despite accusations, is Inside Out, which has about as much in common with The Emoji Movie as Inside Out did with Osmosis Jones).

The animation is also really appealing, with a “cartoony” quality that suits the Saturday morning tone of the film. Oddly enough, the various “worlds” the characters visit within the phone are actually quite creative. A streaming music site takes the form of literal streams, exploding with color in a dreamlike waterfall. A photo album is a frozen landscape which keeps pigeons and fountains in place in a surreal manner. Even a dancing application becomes a strangely perilous cavern of music and death. If any of the film’s environments lack “spark,” it’s the town of “Textopolis” (groan) where the emojis live, which looks a bit too similar to the city of Monstropolis in Monsters, Inc.

But the quality of the movie that amuses the most is the voice cast. As Gene’s “meh” parents, Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge are hilarious monotone, maintaining their slow deliveries even when they’re having a marital argument or professing their love for each other. T.J. Miller and James Cordon are both fun as Gene and High Five, respectively, while Anna Faris helps bring a lot of life and likable energy to Jailbreak. The standout, however, might be Maya Rudolph as “Smiler,” a villain who has to be insanely happy all the time, regardless of if she’s stressed out or publicly threatening to kill someone.  And, yes, the movie’s greatest accomplishment and greatest embarrassment may be that it was able to somehow get Sir Patrick Stewart to drolly voice…well, a talking poop.

The Emoji Movie is far from the best movie you’ll see this year, and may satisfy from low expectations rather than being a “pleasant surprise” like last year’s genuinely sweet Trolls was. But it also has enough pleasingly stupid humor and flashy visuals to keep it from being deleted, and at the end of the day, it’s probably about as enjoyable as you could reasonably expect for a film about sentient emojis to be.

(Note: The Emoji Movie is preceded by a new Hotel Transylvania short called Puppy. It’s very cute and full of delightful gags.)

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

The Emoji Movie
Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Animation
July 28th, 2017
86 minutes (plus short)
Rated PG
Directed by Tony Leondis