As if anyone is surprised in this day and age, with our love for our hand-held devices, that Sony Animation would jump on the band wagon and come up with an animated film centered on the ever-popular Emojis. It just makes sense.

From the mind of co-writer and director Tony Leondis, The Emoji Movie tells the tale of one emoji, Gene (T.J. Miller), who is supposed to be a “meh” emoji but fails because, well, he has a wide variety of expressions he can exhibit at any given time. When Gene displays the wrong emoji for his human user, tweener Alex, embarrassing him in front of a girl he likes, Gene decides he going to find a way to be “normal,” and sets out on an adventure through Alex’s phone. Joining him is the forgotten Hi-5 (James Corden) and Jailbreak (Anna Faris), but as the three make Alex’s phone mess up more and more, the boy thinks he’s going to have to swipe his phone as a reboot. Now, it becomes a race against time, to save the Emoji world and to finally find Gene’s real purpose in it.

ScreenPicks spoke with Leondis about this fun movie, what inspired him to go emojis, his great cast and what he hopes kids will take away from the movie.

On the impetus in making this movie:

Tony Leondis: When I was thinking about what I wanted to do next, I was thinking, “What do kids really love? What is something they really connect to and see every day that we haven’t really explored?” and then I looked at my phone and thought, “Emojis.” It’s a world with these characters that already exist and maybe there’s a fun story there. What’s the secret world inside the phone? It was as simple as that. When we were doing research for the film, we were on our phones a lot. Which emoji is this, what is that emoji? If you connect this to that, what’s the sentence? Emoji-pedia, we really got into that phone.

On the conversation with Patrick Stewart playing the Poop Emoji:

Leondis: I know. That was one character we really thought about. Poop is beloved. Everyone loves Poop, so how do you play him? Do you go rude and crude, which isn’t really my style and more on the nose? Then we came up with upper-crust British gentleman. He’s the one who doesn’t even get the jokes. And when you think of upper-crust British gentleman, who else to do you think of but Patrick Stewart. It was a long shot. Are we really going to offer Poop to Sir Patrick Stewart? I wrote up the story and a character description, and we sent him the pitch. Immediately, he got the joke. He immediately got how Poop could be funny. We sent him the movie when it was done, and he loved it, which was the biggest compliment for me. It still tickles him to be Poop. He says he sends it all the time now.

On T.J. Miller being the perfect Gene:

Leondis: I did have him in mind when I wrote the part. When it came to an emoji who has all the expressions, and he can’t contain it, T.J. Miller was it. That simple. From his other movies, T.J. is known for being the outrageous, silly guy but he is also has such beautiful acting skills. He can be very tender and thoughtful. And that’s what we needed for Gene, to play the emotional scenes, and T.J. just rocks it. I mean, we know he can do comedy, but he wears his heart on his sleeve and is so gentle, kind and loving. And I thought that came through.

On Maya Rudolph’s evil Smiler:

Leondis: She improved a lot of that — smile on the outside, but boy she’ll get ya. We worked really hard on that voice and we came up with: She’s a head cheerleader who really wants her squad to get first prize at the competition. So that’s the take of Smiler we evolved it into. Maya just brings it home.

On the apps Gene and company travel to:

Leondis: Every app we chose is about the characters’ emotional growth, what they have to face. So, with Candy Crush, Gene faces his worst fear about being deleted and he and his friends have to bond to make it through. With the Dance app, it’s about him expressing all of his emotions and for the first time, everyone in the world loved it. It made him feel like maybe he wasn’t so broken.

On the worry kids are on their phones too much:

Leondis: I feel like emojis are kind of unique little things of technology and different from the phone in general because I feel that the human heart has found a way to connect in a world of technology. Through emojis. It’s not just, “I like this, I want this, look at me, look at what I ate for breakfast” and all that nonsense. My mother lives in Boca Raton, and just like she does in real life, when she hugs and kisses me a million times, is what I get from her emojis. Like 10 emojis with heart eyes, 10 kisses, and it really makes me happy. So there is something about emojis helping us connect, especially when we are far away. My family is in all different places and when emojis can help, that’s what technology should be for. It should never stop people from connecting.

On what you hope kids will take away from The Emoji Movie:

Leondis: I hope that they had a great time watching it but I hope they also take away that they are good enough just the way they are. I really do. They are perfect just the way they are, and they don’t have to change for anybody. Not for society, not for the world – and for them to embrace that.

The Emoji Movie opens this Friday, so take the kids and have a great time!

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