Inside the world of emojis

How the The Emoji Movie came to be

If emojis were alive, their job would not be easy - called on at all hours to show up on screen happy-faced, with heart-shaped eyes, as mini-pizzas or piles of poop.

They form the indispensable background to our digital lives, so much so it is almost impossible to imagine a text message without emojis.

New York's Museum of Modern Art last year recognised their importance, adding them to its collections.

And US film-maker Tony Leondis could not resist the temptation, designing a world in which these fantasy figures exist in the animated film The Emoji Movie, which opens here today.

"I want to know what the story is behind the phone where emojis dwell," he said. "What is that world? And build from there."

And so was born the city of Textopolis, located deep in the smartphone of 15-year-old Alex.

In Leondis' world, the emoji industry works 24 hours a day, in shifts, with each figure ready to jump on the screen at a moment's notice.

The work is tedious and allows no change in character: A happy-faced emoji must always be happy; same for an angry one. And if an emoji has more than one personality, it is considered a failure of the system.

Enter Gene (voiced by T.J. Miller), an emoji born without a filter and having multiple expressions. Frustrated, Gene embarks on an adventurous effort to become normal like other emojis, with the help of his friend Hi-5 - the Give me five hand, voiced by James Corden - and hacker Jailbreak (Ilana Glazer).

The protagonists wander through "the cloud" and pass through various cellphone applications, such as Instagram, Spotify and even Candy Crush, where Gene risks being mistaken for a yellow candy and getting crushed as part of the game.

Gene, like his father and mother, is supposed to carry on the family tradition by representing the indifferent emoji Meh.

His family is the supplier of that expression, adding to the pressure on Gene to fall in line.

"He not only feels like an outsider, he feels like a failure," said US actor Miller.

His adventure is a "last shot at fitting in".

Leondis explained that the biggest challenge was to create his own design of a cell phone and original emojis not resembling those of any commercial brand.

Every illustration was subjected to an almost clinical inspection by the studio's legal department.

The film's writers also decided that emojis do not eat or drink.

"You're not gonna eat Pizza," quipped Miller. "That's cannibalism." - AFP