Sony Pictures Animation has always existed as the odd cousin of animation titans Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks. Its movies have grossed a fair amount of money, and a few of them have even gotten positive reviews, but none of them approached the cultural impact of Frozen or the critical acclaim of Inside Out.
Thus far, the highest-grossing Sony animated movie is The Smurfs, which is actually a mixture of live-action and animation; meanwhile, Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and its sequel have gotten the most favorable reviews from critics. And while the company’s existing schedule includes sequels to the Smurfs and Hotel Transylvania, it also includes an adaptation of R.L. Stine’s classic children’s book series Goosebumps, which has potential and the star power of Jack Black carrying it.
Today, Deadline reports that Sony Pictures Animation won an auction over two other studios for the development rights to a movie pitch about emoji, the animated icons available to spice up conversations on most smartphones and texting apps. Tony Leonidis, director of the 2008 animated film Igor and the 2011 short Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Masters, and Eric Siegel, a producer on TBS’ Men at Work, will pen the script, and Leonidis will direct.
This news might seem to reek of desperation at first - but it might be smart to wait before dismissing it out of hand. After all, audiences met similar news about a movie based on Legos with skepticism and indifference, only to be rewarded with The Lego Movie, one of 2014’s most acclaimed films in any genre. Intelligent screenwriters can write a compelling story using characters of any kind, and there could be an interesting way to approach a story about creatures whose only purpose is to express emotions that humans can’t physically express through the written word.
That said, this movie is clearly also in development because Americans like emojis and might spend money on a movie about them, not because there’s an obvious compelling hook for a story. The true test of this movie’s worth will be the movie itself, not the announcement that it exists. The emoji will have to be significantly impactful enough to encourage people who see it to describe it using emojis. It’s unclear whether there’s an idea strong enough for this film, but it’s also too soon to know for sure.