How The Emoji Movie is Like Big Hero 6, According to T.J. Miller

Screen Rant interviews The Emoji Movie star T.J. Miller about the film's message, those comparisons to The LEGO Movie, and Deadpool 2. Reports that Sony Pictures Animation was developing a movie based on emojis surfaced in 2015, but the studio didn't officially announce The Emoji Movie until 2016, with a quick turnaround planned for a summer 2017 release date. In the months since the film was officially announced, details about the plot of The Emoji Movie have been revealed, with the film set to follow a meh emoji named Gene who doesn't feel like he belongs in the emoji home of Textopolis. After his multi-expressional nature causes a snafu, Gene goes on a journey with Hi-5 (James Corden) and Jailbreak (Anna Faris) to become more "normal."

The Emoji Movie additionally stars Patrick Stewart as a poop emoji, Maya Rudolph as Smiler, Jake T. Austin as Alex (the human whose phone is home to Gene), as well as Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge as Gene's parents Mel and Mary Meh, respectively. Directed by Tony Leondis (Igor), The Emoji Movie unveiled a trailer that has drawn comparisons to both Warner Bros' The LEGO Movie and Disney/Pixar's Inside Out. Now, we talk to one of the stars about all things emoji.

Following a presentation of footage from The Emoji Movie, Screen Rant had a chance to interview star T.J Miller and his wife Kate Gorney - who has a cameo role in Sony's animated feature as the heart eyes emoji - about the film as well as his upcoming project, Deadpool 2.

What was your reaction when hearing they were making an emoji movie?

Miller: 'Huh?'

Gorney: I mean, my reaction was, heck yeah! Because my preferred language of communication is emojis. … So when he was like, ‘They’re doing this emoji movie,’ I was like, ‘Yes! Are you going to be in it? Please, please!’

Miller: My reaction really was, 'Huh?' I almost went into the meeting kind of being like, I just want to see how the f–ck they think that they’re going to make a movie with emojis. Then when I met Tony, I was sort of immediately like, 'Wow, he’s really funny.' He’s very kind and he has a real empathy to him, a real sensitivity and he wants everybody in the room to feel good. He’s quick to give a compliment. So, even from his personality, I realized that we would get along well. Michelle [Raimo Kouyate], the producer, and he... Immediately Kate was like, 'Wow, they’re like really good, kind people.'

Then when he laid out Textopolis and that they would leave the app and go through the wallpaper into other apps and then eventually they were trying to get to DropBox so that they could get to the cloud and they would see what the cloud looks like. Some of it reminded me of Big Hero 6 because it was animating things that kind of everybody knows but can’t imagine looks like. Whereas that’s time and space within Big Hero 6, this is like the cloud, the wallpaper, Spotify, the Just Dance app, Candy Crush. Like the way that he had built out those worlds, I just thought was really inventive. So I was like, ‘Yeah, f–ck it.’

It’s also an original property. Not that we don’t need Hotel Transylvania 2, because kids that loved Hotel Transylvania 1 would love to see Hotel Transylvania 2. ... So I like doing stuff that hasn’t - like Deadpool - I like doing things where it’s original, it’s different from what’s out there. Otherwise you’d see me in bachelor party comedies or weddings-gone-awry comedies and I just think there’s enough of those, and if other people want to do them, that’s great.

In this case, The Emoji Movie - well, one, it transcends language barriers. Like she’s saying, some people just text with emojis, then [Kate] kept turning to me throughout the movie saying, ‘This is so good because parents communicate with kids using emojis, and kids do with their parents.’ What I never had even considered, as we watched it, we were like, ‘Oh this is great, everyone’s in on the joke.’ It feels like, because you know and use these emojis, you sort of see that character and you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I use that, I wonder what it’s going to be like in this movie.’ And then it’s either like the poop emoji, he’s the sort of refined Sir Poop-trick Stewart kind of character.

Gorney: Or then you see some and you’re thinking to yourself, oh that’s my best friend’s favorite emoji, she texts that one to me all the time. Or that’s my dad’s favorite emoji…

Miller: And then sometimes, like Heart Eyes, you know it’s a cameo in the film, but some of the emojis speak just like they - just like Smiler always has to be smiling, is always smiling and seems happy even when she’s mad or being scary. So that’s also fun, too, is you get to see each emoji and kind of guess, like, oh I wonder what the personality is going to be like and then you’re either surprised or it makes perfect sense.

I really like that, and then I really like a movie that transcends language barriers if only in the sense that although it’s going to be dubbed with different voices internationally in some markets, everybody knows those characters, whether they live in Japan, China, Russia. Everyone uses this emoji set, and so I like that because a big theme of the film is inclusion and being the authentic you. There’s a lot of great messages.

Gorney: And you really loved too how absolutely passionate Tony and Michelle have been about this project from the very beginning.

Miller: Yeah, I think that’s very true. I think that we could really feel how passionate they were about making this movie, making it great, making it unexpected and different than people thought. Then overcoming all expectations that it wouldn’t be good. Kind of like The LEGO Movie did, and that passion, combined with being really, really collaborative, which they are, combined with the really progressive messaging. I just think a big part of this movie is women not feeling like they only can fit in certain roles. Jailbreak smashes through a glass ceiling at one point, but it’s also important right now for parents having their kids with them at this film and then sort of breathing a sigh of relief because the film reinforces to their daughters that you’re not just an object, you’re not something to be taken for granted, you don’t have to fulfill any role in society except being the authentic you.

And then, messages of inclusion are so important right now because there’s so much phobia of different cultures, different races and I also just like - I haven’t really talked about this much - but it’s kind of telling men and boys to be the type of person that can admit to being sad, that can feel embarrassed because they put themselves out there and it didn’t go the right way. I think that’s a valuable lesson because even nowadays our idea of masculinity sometimes involves being the strong and silent type, and that’s just not the case anymore. That’s so heteronormative, as Kristen Stewart would say.

Related: Emoji Movie Tops Social Media Buzz

I’ve seen comparisons of The Emoji Movie to other things like Inside Out and The LEGO Movie, how is it set apart from those?

Miller: Well, Inside Out I think is a good comparison because it showed you what it’s like if your mind was anthropomorphic and each of those emotions was always that same emotion. This movie kind of speaks to the fact that now our phones are basically a part of us, that we’re hurtling towards the singularity - oh boy, that’s going to be exciting when we’re all part machine… [The Emoji Movie] sort of imagines what this world inside your phone would be like and everybody has a music streaming app, and everybody has the YouTube app, and everybody has DropBox. So the source material is familiar but the way we’re presenting it is very, very different.

And then The LEGO Movie, I think the big reason they’re comparing it to that is because everybody didn’t know what the hell that was going to be. And then it ended up being this really great, refreshing, satirical thing, and I think our film is less about social satire and more about lessons, more about values, more about comedy. I mean, The LEGO Movie is f–cking hilarious but this movie is really funny and has a lot of great messages. I think parents and kids will like it.

But when we saw it, we were just like, ‘This is so funny, and it moves.’ The pacing is great, which you need because you want kids to be like, ‘And then, oh my god, OK, now they’re running away, oh no!’ You want to draw people in and have them never feel like, OK this scene’s been going on for a little while or they’re hitting this over the head too hard. It’s funny enough that everybody will really laugh. It’s great, I think people are going to be really surprised at the inventiveness of it, at the imagination within it.

And it’s a cast that really delivers - I mean, Steven Wright’s like one of the funniest stand up comedians ever, Jennifer Coolidge is so hilarious, and Maya Rudolph is so hilarious. And I thought Anna Faris just does this great job of being a lot of different things... But Anna kind of is rebuffing stereotypes about women, but then also making fun of herself and being self aware, and also being really strong but also being really selfish and only looking out for number one. So I think the cast kind of speaks for itself - literally, voiceover animation joke... But everybody’s really fun and good in it, and it’s just funny and it’s cute. I mean, that’s what emojis are, it’s kind of a cute way of communicating with each other.

The Emoji Movie Gene Hi-5

Before I go, what can fans expect from Deadpool 2?

We’re shooting in August and September and it’s going to be even more Weaselicious. … The cab driver, Karan Soni, and Weasel have a pretty funny storyline, which I’m not positive is going to be in [the movie], but they were talking about it and it was really making me laugh. And I like him, I did Office Christmas Party with him, and he’s very funny, very quick and so — because we didn’t cross paths in the original film. ... So y’know [fans can expect] stuff like that. I think they’re really building out the world and deciding kind of what’s next.

Next: The Emoji Movie Trailer

The Emoji Movie unlocks the never-before-seen secret world inside your smartphone. Hidden within the messaging app is Textopolis, a bustling city where all your favorite emojis live, hoping to be selected by the phone’s user. In this world, each emoji has only one facial expression – except for Gene (T.J. Miller), an exuberant emoji who was born without a filter and is bursting with multiple expressions. Determined to become “normal” like the other emojis, Gene enlists the help of his handy best friend Hi-5 (James Corden) and the notorious code breaker emoji Jailbreak (Anna Faris). Together, they embark on an epic “app-venture” through the apps on the phone, each its own wild and fun world, to find the Code that will fix Gene. But when a greater danger threatens the phone, the fate of all emojis depends on these three unlikely friends who must save their world before it’s deleted forever.

Key Release Dates
  • The Emoji Movie (2017) release date: Jul 28, 2017
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