Watch “Nine Lives” and “The Emoji Movie” to see a good idea poorly executed. In “Nine Lives,” a selfish, businessman gets turned into a cat so he can learn to be more humble and appreciative of his family. In “The Emoji Movie,” an emoji who can’t limit himself to one expression, eventually learns to take advantage of his unique skills, much like the classic story of “The Ugly Duckling.”
From an idea standpoint, both movies have promise, but once you start watching them, you can see exactly where the execution completely falls apart. By studying bad movies, you can see the importance of developing characters, giving them goals, and having them focused on a single, dominant story theme. Bad movies typically focus on action while ignoring actual story structure.
“Nine Lives” is meant to be a comedy, and that’s a huge problem right there. Bad comedies try to be funny. Good comedies are funny because they’re about something. “The Wedding Crashers” was funny because it was about two men trying to pick up women, but they both eventually learn to fall in love so there was a strong emotional element as well. “Bridesmaids” was funny because it was about a woman who sees herself as a failure, slowly learning to see herself as a success. Her constant failure to do anything right is funny as she struggles and over reacts to everything around her.
“Nine Lives” is just about a man turning into a cat. The bigger lesson of learning to appreciate his family gets muddled with the movie’s attempt to be funny. It’s hard to be funny. It’s much easier to make fun of something and be funny as a result.
“Midnight in Paris” is about a man who magically can go back in time to meet famous personalities like Picasso and Hemingway. The humor stems from the hero’s interaction with these famous people. In comparison, “Nine Lives” just hopes that people like cats and watching a cat doing slapstick will be funny by itself. It’s not, which is why “Nine Lives” is neither funny nor a compelling story.
“The Emoji Movie” has a decent idea, but its execution is poor. The emphasis is on name-dropping different apps like Candy Crush, Instagram, and Twitter. There’s no coherent theme that drives all the action. Instead, the characters simply wander around, visiting different popular apps like DropBox. Beyond the name recognition, “The Emoji Movie” doesn’t tell a good story.
In “The Emoji Movie,” hero feels like he’s a failure in front of his parents. When the hero is marked for deletion, the hero runs away and his parents look for him. In the process, his parents argue and break up, then they find each other again. Yet there’s no sense of closeness to either of the parent characters. One scene they’re arguing and suddenly break up. Then the next scene they meet again and decide to get back together. Without any type of emotional highs and lows that lets us live through the characters, we feel distant and aloof, watching these meaningless characters wander around. By the end of “The Emoji Movie,” you feel like a spectator watching a sport you don’t fully understand. Because you don’t care about the people, you don’t care about the end result.
To tell a good story, you need a good idea. Then you need to tell that good idea by making each character interesting, keep all action unified under one theme, and keep throwing complications at the hero that’s foreshadowed earlier in the story. Where “The Emoji Movie” falls apart is when the characters run in different apps like a dance game that’s never foreshadowed ahead of time and just pops up out of nowhere.
Even though this dance video game creates problems for the hero, the way the hero deals with this problem has little bearing on the emotional change of the hero. Watching the hero dance and teaching the love interest to dance isn’t that interesting because the love interest’s inability to dance was never set up earlier in the story. So when she can only advance through the app by dancing and she can’t dance so the hero has to help her, their actions seem to have no relation to any earlier part of the story. As a result, this obstacle pops up out of nowhere, the hero finds a way to solve this problem using skills that pop up out of nowhere, and then the obstacle is gone for good and plays no part in the rest of the story in any way.
Now compare this to how scenes are related in a good movie like “Terminator 2.” In an early scene, John Connor uses a weird device to tap into an ATM and get money out of it. Later, John Connor uses this same device to open an electronic lock in the Cyberdyne building. Because we saw John Connor use this machine earlier, having him use it again to overcome an obstacle makes sense and creates a more unified story.
“The Emoji Movie” throws an obstacle in the hero’s way that we’ve never seen before and never knew existed. Then the hero solves this problem using a skill we never knew he had. Then the obstacle is bypassed. This essentially creates isolated scenes with obstacles that have no connection to the rest of the story.
Bad movies are rarely bad because of their idea. Bad movies suck because they fail to structure their story properly and instead try to rush ahead and show action instead of taking time to develop the story and the characters so you’ll actually care about them. Don’t pay money to see a bad movie in a theater. Rent a bad movie from a vending machine or streaming service and save your money. Life’s too short to watch bad movies except as a way to study why they’re so bad.