By Justine O’Malley
17 September 2017

The ‘Emoji Movie,’ based on the emoji symbols, was released by Sony Pictures Animation in July this year. The film centres around ‘Gene,’ a multi-expressional emoji who lives in a teenage boy’s phone. Gene sets out on a journey to become a normal ‘Meh’ emoji like his parents. For in the emoji world the expectation is that you will have no change in emotion, you must always outwardly show the emotion that is expected of you.

Gene is joined on his adventure by his friend ‘Hi-5’ the unpopular emoji (voiced by James Corden) and the hacker ‘Jailbreak,’ a female character who doesn’t want to be constrained by the stereotypes of a Princess.

This movie is packed full of teachable moments and you can revisit the movie’s themes and messages with your children.

Some discussion starters…

*Gene is expected to conform to showing only one emotion. Do you think that can happen to people as well? Have you ever heard the expression “put on a brave face?” Have you ever heard someone told to “toughen up?”. Is it ok to show and tell someone that you are feeling sad/scared/unsafe?

* One of the early scenes in the movie shows everyone on their mobile phones and two people walk into each other because they are looking at their phone rather than what is around them. How much time do you spend on electronics? Do you think that electronics can stop people from communicating in real life? (The producer of the movie said that ‘phones are something that we use and can bring us together but we also have to have human connections.’)

*Gene and his friends have to pass through some of the social media apps on their journey. They point out that sometimes people don’t know each other but they ‘like’ each other because popularity is what matters in life. Do you think that is true? What makes a real friendship? Would you rather have lots of fans or real friends?

*Initially the characters want to reach their goals at any cost but along the way they discover the importance of teamwork. Gene tells Jailbreak “What good is it to be number one if there aren’t any other numbers”? How do the characters in the movie work together to achieve their goals? Why is teamwork important?

The emoji characters provide lots of opportunities to discuss different feelings words. Understanding emotions is a critical part of children’s overall development. Parents, carers and teachers can assist children in expressing their feelings by giving the feelings names and encouraging children to talk about how they are feeling. “I can see that you are really disappointed that Jacob can’t come to your party.” By giving children a label for their emotions we enable them to develop a vocabulary to talk about their feelings.

Give children lots of opportunities to identify feelings in themselves and others. Point out a situation and ask how someone else might be feeling. “How do you think Jessie felt when she found out her Mum was going to have a baby?”

Teach children that there are different ways to respond to feelings that become overwhelming. Adults can teach children to understand and deal with their emotions in appropriate ways. We should validate children’s emotions and never punish them for expressing their feelings. By teaching them about their feelings we can help them to develop new ways to deal with overwhelming emotions (like anger). It is important to give them time and opportunities to practice their new strategies and lots of positive encouragement when they use the new strategy rather than reacting in the ‘old’ way.

Very importantly the Protective Behaviours Program encourages children to talk with a trusted adult when they are feeling unsafe, scared or worried about a situation.

Read the review from 11 year old Michael below…

“The Emoji movie was fun!

My favourite character was Gene who could make funny faces. I liked him because he could change his faces. It is important that other people know how you are feeling, then they can know if you are feeling happy or sad.

My two favourite parts of the movie was when they went to visit all the apps and when the poop emoji said he didn’t have to wash his hands because he was a number 2!

I think that the theme of the movie was that you shouldn’t have to be what everyone else wants you to be and you should be able to be yourself.

I would recommend this movie to other kids because they can learn about feelings and it is a good movie. I rate the movie two thumbs up!

Here are some fun emoji activity ideas that you can use with children following on from the emoji movie to increase children’s feelings vocabulary …

Emoji feeling chart
Use these as prompts to share how you are feeling today.

Emoji bookmarks
Choose your favourite emoji and make a bookmark. Make emoji bookmarks for your friends.

Emoji chocolate molds
Before you eat the chocolate share a time that you felt this way.
Source: Chocolate moulds available on ebay

Emoji Bingo
Kids love bingo. Use these emoji templates to make a bingo game for your family or classroom.

Emoji Stress balls
Yellow balloons and rice is all you need to make these emoji stress balls that double as a sensory toy as well as an emotions conversation starter.

Emoji paper plate crafts
Make emoji plates then create your own emoji story.

Emoji pop stick feelings
Every child can make a set and display which emotion they are feeling today.

Justine O’Malley is a teacher and a social worker who is passionate about child abuse prevention and keeping children safe. She lives in Western Australia with her husband and teenage son. Justine is one of Australia’s most experienced Protective Behaviours educators. Justine is a qualified Teacher and Accredited Social Worker with over 29 years’ experience working in the education and child protection sectors. Justine served for 16 years on the board of Protective Behaviours Australia and 18 years at Protective Behaviours WA. Justine has taught Protective Behaviours to children, young people, parents and professionals across Australia and internationally. Justine is the author of Jasmine’s Butterflies and Michael’s Bubbles, two popular Protective Behaviours storybooks and has been the editor of a number of Protective Behaviours resources, including K-7 lesson plans for the WA Department of Education.