Actors T.J. Miller and Jake T. Austin, alongside director Tony Leondis, and producer Michelle Raimo Kouyate stopped by BUILD Series for a delightful conversation about their new animated movie "The Emoji Movie." They discussed a variety of topics including what they enjoyed about making the film, the underlying message behind it, and voicing their respective roles.
The movie takes you inside Textopolis, the world inside our phones, where emojis are meant to have only one expression. But there's one emoji named Gene, played by Miller, that has multiple expressions. Despite being a "meh" emoji with numerous facial expressions, he sets out on this crazy adventure to come to terms with his true self and identity.
Leondis started the discussion off by revealing how the idea of this movie came about.
"I was trying to think what I wanted to do next and I was thinking, 'What toys of the world? What is it around us all the time but we don't really know their story?' and I looked at the phone and I saw that my mom sent me a bunch of emojis and I thought emojis! That's something everyone knows about and a world we can all play in and then I brought it to Michelle, my beloved producer and friend, and I was thinking the emojis would come out into our world maybe and what that would be like, and Michelle was like, 'I'm interested in what's in the phone, and then my mind went BOOOM, and then I was like 'Oh my god!'"
The rest is history! The dynamic duo of Leondis and Kouyate worked diligently to get this film made in such a timely fashion as acknowledged by Miller. "This holds the record for the fastest produced animated film in history."
Miller went on in praising the film for its originality. "It's a new property. How many films are original right now?!? We're so inundated with franchises which is fine, that's great, we know what we're getting, we're excited for "Deadpool 2," and what's going to happen, and Spiderman is younger now, and what's he going to go through..."Fantastic Four," we're going to try for a fifth time. Even though we should've stopped at four because none of them was fantastic. We've got enough of that, so this [film] was exciting. We got these two people creating this world that didn't even exist."
"Having someone like T.J., you know, to be able to embody the character and bring it to life was really important to us which is why we wanted him," affirmed Kouyate.
Miller referenced the film "A Beautiful Mind" to how brilliantly Leondis and Kouyate made the film.
"The way that you [two] describe this and how excited you were, and also I found some allies in Hollywood that are really focused on optimism and positivity. You've talked a lot about understanding that everyone feels like they are the 'Other', and that you should be able to express who you're actually are. The best 'You' is not the 'You' that you're doing for society, your friends or family but the authentic 'You'."
"["The Emoji Movie"] has got everything you want in an animated film. It's got heart. It's really really funny. The pacing is really great. It's fast, and it's got beautiful values. They come from a beautiful mind and a beautiful collaboration."
Leondis added, "the movie is about identity and that in today's world, like T.J. said, the idea of 'Other,' and 'They're different than me,' is not the way to be as a worldwide community. That was really important to me."
"Like T.J. said, emojis are universal, everyone uses them now. So to build a story that everyone could relate to, especially young people, and kids [is rewarding]. My character [Alex] is a kid who's trying to figure out who he is. He's in high school and a lot of kids are addicted to social media, and they're addicted to their phones. So in a way it's kind of refreshing to see a story about the significance of that. Can it go too far? You know, sometimes should we pull back? Should we take our eyes off our phones and interact with the people around us more? So I think it provokes questions but also there's a lot of heart in it. There's really like strong values," concluded Austin.