Enter the Dragon
How to Train Your Dragon is directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois and is loosely based on the 2003 book of the same name by Cressida Crowell. The film stars the voices of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, and Kristen Wiig.
DreamWorks Animation has been largely hit or miss in their twenty one-something years of making animated feature films. Although Shrek may forever be their definitive film in regards to studio identification, the acclaim gathered by 2010's How to Train Your Dragon has completely wiped away any and all tag lines that say something to the effect of, "From the studio that brought you Shrek." If we can conclude anything given the next ten or so years of the studio's history after How to Train Your Dragon, we might as well say that the How To Train Your Dragon trilogy is the best thing DreamWorks Animation has ever produced. The Shrek films only got worse over time, and no one seemed to get all bent out of shape about the Kung Fu Panda trilogy. Is anyone still talking about the highly acclaimed Chicken Run or Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit?
I'm not sure if I can say it's a little easier or a little harder to review How to Train Your Dragon here in 2019, when two sequels have come out and you no longer have the capability of reviewing it upon initial release. Honestly, I don't think it matters in the slightest: a great animated film is, and always will be, a great animated film, and How to Train Your Dragon is a dazzling work of action, character, screen writing, and, well duh, animation.
Taking place in the Viking village of Berk, How to Train Your Dragon tells the story of the clumsy Viking teenager named Hiccup (Baruchel), who happens to be the son of the village chieftain, Stoick the Vast (Butler). The village is constantly under attack by a swarm of dragons, and Hiccup tries to contribute by inventing and using various mechanical devices, all of which end up only making things worse. During one of the dragon attacks, Hiccup manages to shoot down a dragon claimed to be one of the deadliest breeds of dragons ever: a Night Fury. Hiccup later ventures into the woods to find the Night Fury, but instead of killing it, he lets it go free. The dragon is unable to fly away however, due to an injury to its tail. Meanwhile, Stoick and the rest of Berk make preparations to find the dragons' nest and end the dragon threat once and for all. At the same time, Hiccup befriends the Night Fury, giving it the name Toothless and creating new inventions in order to help the dragon fly again. As he spends more and more time with Toothless, Hiccup uncovers something about the dragons that may change the way of life for Berk forever.
- It's not every day that you can praise the action scenes of an animated film, but that's something I very much can do for How to Train Your Dragon. With dragons zipping through the air left and right, the action in How to Train Your Dragon is always fast and fiery, yet Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois make sure everything stays conceivable and in focus. Scenes with dragon action are executed in ways that never lose sight of how much space is involved and how characters are moving here and to. Something else that goes on in the story is that Stoick signs Hiccup up to participate in "dragon killing" classes, all of which take place in a fighting pit. The scenes of Hiccup and his peers doing their training with the dragons show off a nice mixture of POV shots and wide-scale shots to give us ideas of both what the characters are seeing through their eyes and what kind of environment that their training is taking place in.
The use of wide shots during the action is critical for making it all work. By keeping everything at a distance, it's much easier to discern the fast moving objects flying around the frame, as well obtain a clear picture of who is where. Every little thing, whether it's someone throwing an axe or a dragon spitting fire, nothing is left to chance with the shot composition during the action scenes. It's beautiful work, and the kind of execution that all action-based movies should strive to achieve.
- Being based on a series of children's books, Sanders and DeBlois must have thought it was in their best interest to make all the dragons look as cute and cuddly as possible. When you realize what the big secret about the dragons is, it makes sense to have them be designed the way they are. Unfortunately, I still found myself a tad disappointed that several of the dragons don't look at least a little bit intimidating, something that would especially benefit the early scenes of the Vikings fighting the dragons. Animated or not, a dragon is a dragon, and something that can be a destructive force of nature ought to at least look the part a little more. Basically, this is me criticizing the dragon designs. A lot of the designs look too similar in regards to the dragons' snouts, fangs, and horns, as if there are secretly only two dragon breeds: Night Fury and non-Night Fury. Toothless' design is perfect, given his relationship with Hiccup in the movie. The other dragon designs, however, leave a bit more to be desired.
So to conclude, I'm not sure how "original" my praise for How to Train Your Dragon can be, since it's been almost a full decade since this movie first hit theaters. Some of the praises are worth repeating: How to Train Your Dragon is full of heart and exciting action, and it flies to the top tier of DreamWorks' animated features. The action especially should be singled out, for the masterful way that Sanders and DeBlois put it all together. It's an animated film that offers something special to people of all ages, from kids loving the cute dragons, to older folks appreciating the true meaning of Hiccup and Toothless' budding relationship. Now with a full blown trilogy in existence, we can look back on How to Train Your Dragon and understand that a long, wonderful journey was in the works. Other animated films can have their toys, insects, mice, whatever. DreamWorks has freaking dragons. Hard to go too wrong with them.
The Emoji Movie is directed by Tony Leondis and stars the voices of T.J. Miller, James Corden, Anna Faris, Maya Rudolph, Steven Wright, Jennifer Coolidge, Christina Aguilera, Sofia Vergara, and Patrick Stewart.
Let's just cut the crap and get right to it: The Emoji Movie has one of the dumbest concepts for a movie ever and is probably the dumbest concept for a movie that I have ever seen up until this point in my lifetime. I thought Jaws: The Revenge had the stupidest concept I had ever heard of (and it still is very much stupid), but when stacked next to The Emoji Movie, Jaws: The Revenge's concept looks like a creativity goldmine. As the great Roger Ebert once put it, it's not what a movie is about, but how the movie is about that thing. This, unfortunately, does not apply to The Emoji Movie, for it's a movie whose what has no hope, no potential, no dignity.
There is one thing that we do learn from The Emoji Movie: Hollywood's creative thinking tank is officially empty. Anything, and I mean anything, is now fair game for Hollywood to consider making a movie out of. Board room meetings among Hollywood producers and executives now go something like, "Hey, remember that movie that came out a while ago and developed a fan base over time? Let's give it a sequel!" or, "Do you remember that toy or fad that was popular at one point in time? Let's make a movie out of it!" All of the laziness, creative ineptitude, and heartless branding that embody the Hollywood business industry today are on full display in The Emoji Movie, for it is a film plagued by lazy humor, a glaring lack of imagination, and rampant product placement. There are simply too many ways one can go about attacking The Emoji Movie's jet black heart of malevolence and greed, and I'll get to the major ones as we go along this review.
For now, it makes the most sense to discuss the basic plot before I get my hands dirty with all of the horrific wrongs of this movie that I have easily declared the winner of Worst Movie of 2017. The Emoji Movie mostly takes place inside the phone of high school student, Alex. Inside Alex's phone is a world known as Textopolis (not Emojiville or Emojiworld or anything like that and is supposed to be the world inside everyone's phone), where all of the phone's emojis live. Gene (T.J. Miller) is a "meh" emoji living in the phone, but he is capable of making many other expressions besides "meh". The Emojis are brought into cubes where a scanner scans them to send up their information whenever Alex decides to use a certain emoji in a text. Alex is crushing on a girl at school named Addie, and he decides to send her an emoji text. Alex decides to use "meh", and the scanner chooses Gene, who is having his first day in his cube. Gene panics, and the resulting text is a confusing expression. Confronting Gene is the text center supervisor, Smiler (Maya Rudolph), who declares that Gene is a malfunction and must be deleted. Smiler unleashes a group of bots to hunt down and delete Gene, but Gene runs away and meets up with the Hi-5 emoji (James Corden), who tells Gene of a hacker named Jailbreak who could help reprogram Gene into a normal "meh" emoji. The two then set out on a journey throughout the phone, causing issues for Alex in his world.
The first trailer for The Emoji Movie dropped back in December 2016, and it unleashed a fire storm of hatred and disbelief similar to the one brought on by the 2016 Ghostbusters. In the months leading up to the film's theatrical release, people everywhere were anxiously wondering, "Is is really going to be that bad?" Turns out, The Emoji Movie is that bad. It is so bad, that I don't hesitate for a second to call it one of the worst animated movies that I have ever seen. I mean, we all knew it was going to suck based on what the teasers and trailers showed us, but even if we had held the slightest bit of optimism that the film could bring another Lego Movie-esque surprise, it was just a matter of time, waiting and waiting until the movie came out and confirmed our worst fears. As I mentioned already, The Emoji Movie had no potential from the get-go, because how much can you do with those cute little faces that are on your phone and get sent through your text messages?
One thing The Emoji Movie does is blatantly steal from other, better animated movies, but without any freaking clue about how to recapture the magical charm of those better animated films. The animated movies that people bring up the most when discussing what animated films that The Emoji Movie copies off of are The Lego Movie, Wreck-it-Ralph, and Inside Out. Among these three, Inside Out is the big one, as both Inside Out and The Emoji Movie involve two different worlds that know almost nothing about one another, yet the events going on in one world impact what's going on in the other world. In Inside Out, the adventures of Joy and Sadness affect what's going on in the life of Riley. In The Emoji Movie, the antics of Gene impact the state of Alex's phone. There's really no contest when trying to decide which is a more interesting world to explore: a human mind or a phone. As much as The Emoji Movie fails in replicating the success of Inside Out, the other animated movie to mention is Toy Story. Director Tony Leondis has stated how much he loved Toy Story, wanting to do a new take on Toy Story's concept, but with a toy that no one had explored yet. Leondis then received a text message with an emoji, and that was when he decided, "That's it! Emojis are the world I want to explore!" So basically, The Emoji Movie was inspired by someone who watched Toy Story and said, "Hey, that was amazing! I want to do that too!" When your director has mentioned how his inspiration comes from the success of another movie and wanting to duplicate it in a different way, you're in a bad spot my friend.
- Even when you get past the whole "ripping off better animated movies" stage, it is still impossible to forgive just how flimsy and goddamn stupid that The Emoji Movie's script is. The world of Textopolis doesn't have anything remotely interesting about it, and the way the film explains how the emojis work by getting scanned by a giant finger scanner isn't creative in the slightest. In the opening minutes, Gene, in voice over, mentions that emojis are the most important form of communication ever invented. Oh, and if you didn't walk out by that point, it doesn't stop there. Any and all remaining prayers that you might have for The Emoji Movie to be at least halfway decent are shot down when you hear lines like, "What if you get sent out on the phone, making the wrong face?" And then you have the obvious product placement slip-ins ("Don't worry! This app is secure!"), and you are left in further disbelief that fully grown human beings sat down in a room and came up with this garbage. But wait! It gets EVEN WORSE!
- Awful dialogue isn't all the script kills your spirits with. There are two horrendous subplots on top of an already horrendous main plot, one being Alex's attempt to win over Addie, the other concerning the relationship between Gene's parents (we are to assume that emojis are capable of breeding...I refuse to proceed any further with that topic), who I'll just call Mom Meh (Jennifer Coolidge) and Dad Meh (Steven Wright). Everything involving Alex concerns his efforts to send Addie an emoji text, (the film never explains how the two got each other's phone numbers, which would suggest that the two have some sort of prior connection), meaning that the film's human romance story completely hinges on the success of one single text message. I don't know about you, but I highly doubt kids nowadays hook up solely by text messages and emojis. It doesn't make any sense, and it's unbelievably stupid. What teenage girl is going to get together with a guy just because he sent her a neat-looking emoji text? And speaking of romance, the subplot concerning Gene's parents involves the two potentially splitting up. That's right, the lethargic Meh emojis are having problems in their relationship. I mean, it's obvious why it's there. It's all for the sake of a bad joke about near emotionless emojis going through an emotional struggle, and it's driven into the ground until there's nothing but dust remaining.
And, of course, I just cannot end this review without briefly discussing the great Sir Patrick Stewart playing the poop emoji. The poop emoji only appears in the beginning of the film and close towards the end, but he's only there for some utterly lame poop jokes, because, y'know, kids just LOVE poop jokes and the writers just couldn't help themselves knowing that a poop emoji exists. But aside from lazy bathroom humor, The Emoji Movie settles for jokes and references that are more shallow than a dried out kiddie pool, completely devoid of wit and refusing to assume that the audience is smart (actually, the movie doesn't offer any proof that it's respecting its audience at all).
It is not enough to say that I hated The Emoji Movie. I hated every second of it, but hate was not my dominant feeling while watching it. More than hatred, I felt depression, depression that I had to accept the fact that this movie truly exists, depression that a film whose inner mechanics that are made up of bad comedy, product placement, and material shamelessly copied from somebody else's work was released in theaters and targeted at children, depression that Hollywood and the cinema, the latter one of the chief joys of my life, would stoop so low so as to green light a movie about freaking emojis. It is not charming or funny or creative in any conceivable way. No, The Emoji Movie is an experiment in trying to destroy charm and humor and imagination, having the foolish notion that children and their minds are merely confined to the world of their phones and are incapable of being wildly creative and imaginative. Yes, it's true: Phones play a big part of people's lives and, sometimes, a little too much. But The Emoji Movie makes no effort in making a meaningful commentary on the way people are attached to their phones. It takes people's phone addictions for granted and uses them as a platform to advertise waning phone apps while also attempting to deliver a "be yourself" message that is of the most cliched of messages normally found in children's films. I hesitate to say The Emoji Movie is a children's film, because it only causes damage and puts constraints on the curious minds of children, and I certainly wouldn't want any small children that I know to go anywhere near The Emoji Movie. This is a movie that needs to be buried deep into the Earth and erased from the cinema history books for all time. Correction: The Emoji Movie is not even a movie. It doesn't deserve any thin satisfaction from being called a movie; it's a heartless, cynical bag of trash that should be erased from all existence, because the world and everyone in it will be much better off not knowing that The Emoji Movie was ever a thing.
Recommend? What do you think?
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: