These days almost no new movie project being announced can surprise anybody. The success (both critical and commercial) of Warner Bros' The LEGO Movie has changed the way that studios think about leveraging commercial brands within feature films, looking to increasingly unconventional properties as potential "outside the box" material for narrative films. Fox has had Play-Doh: The Movie in development for about a year, and esoteric fare like Viewmaster and Magic 8-Ball have been optioned elsewhere.
Nevertheless, few upcoming projects were greeted with as many curious expressions as The Emoji Movie: a pitch Sony acquired the rights to after a fierce bidding war. Sony officially announced the orginal animated feature at the 2016 CinemaCon in Las Vegas, offering fans and journalists the first glimpse at exactly what kind of story the studio aims to tell with the project.
While the response to the project by many has been skepticism as to both why and how anyone would attempt to build a feature film out of the ubiquitous smiley-face graphics used to denote emotion in text messages and on social media, the studio's presentation made it immediately clear that The Emoji Movie (which may get a different title in the future) is viewed by the studio as a major branding opportunity: The film will take place within the digital world of a smartphone, and the studio is angling for the makers of popular existing apps to join up as commercial partners on the project in order to see their products featured as part of the storyline.
The film's setup (the original pitch and screenplay came from the writing duo of Eric Siegel and animation veteran Anthony Leondis) appears similar to that of earlier "digital world" films like Tron and Wreck-It-Ralph, but relocated into the language of smartphones. Explained Sony Pictures Animation President Kristine Belson:
“Inside your phone, there’s a secret world– and we enter through the text app where we discover Emoji Valley, where the industrious Emoji live and work.”
The storyline will involve the main characters (presumably the Emoji themselves) leaving Emoji Valley for the broader world of their phone's homescreen, where they discover that they can enter the other worlds that exist within each individual app. According to Belson, this will involve imaginative scenarios like the Emoji riding boats on an actual stream representing the world of the music-streaming app, and a report by The Wrap reveals that streaming giant Spotify has already closed a deal for their service to sponsor this segment of the film. In the same presentation, Sony chairman Tom Rothman elaborated:
“We have a number of power brands returning relaunching or being reintroduced — and yet at Sony we also believe that it is vital to maintain a commitment to originality.”
Sony's official confirmation of the film comes as part of a renewed push for original features by the studio's animation division. In addition to The Emoji Movie, Sony Pictures Animation is also developing an original animated Spider-Man movie (separate from the live-action Spider-Man: Homecoming), an all-animated reboot of The Smurfs (unrelated to the two earlier live-action/CGI features) and The Lamb, a "faith-based" animated feature reportedly based around animals from the Nativity story.
The Emoji Movie is currently set to reach U.S. theaters on August 11th, 2017.
Source: Sony Pictures [via The Wrap]