Good news everybody, the summer holidays are nearly over! Soon, the kids will be back at school and we won’t have to endure any more trips to the cinema to sit in a screening of an animated film surrounded by hyperactive children. Talking about animated films aimed at children…the latest film featuring toys that come to life has just been released on the big screen in the form of UglyDolls. Like The LEGO-Movie (2014) and The Playmobil Movie (2019), UglyDolls is also based on a toyline.
And just like The LEGO-Movie, UglyDolls features really catchy tunes that invade your mind. However, the film feels a little confused and muddled, as if it’s not entirely sure what message it wants to put across to children and as a result, the film becomes almost forgettable once the cute and cuddly animated plush toys have bleated out their last song. Sadly, everything is not awesome with UglyDolls.
In a hidden universe, dolls are created, given life and chosen for a single child, while deformed dolls are dropped into the remote town of Uglyville. Among these outcasted dolls is the idealistic (and rather too enthusiastic) Moxy (Kelly Clarkson), who dreams of going up to the ‘Big World’ and being chosen for a child despite Uglyville’s Mayor Ox (Blake Shelton) assuring her this is a myth.
On advice from Lucky Bat (Wang Leehom), Moxy enters the hole from which new Ugly Dolls arrive, hoping to reach the Big World with the help of Lucky Bat and her friends, easy-going Ugly Dog (Pitbull), cynical baker Wage (Wanda Sykes), and strong, soft-spoken Babo (Gabriel Iglesias). However, when the gang travels up the chute they discover the sinister Institute of Perfection, the final testing stage for dolls, where the mayor is evil doll named Lou (Nick Jonas).
Faced with Moxy’s enduring positivity, Lou agrees to let them try out for the Gauntlet (a test which will determine whether the doll has met the standards required for the outside world). The UglyDolls make a new friend in the form meet a perfect doll named Mandy (Janelle Monáe), who may be able to help them be selected, but will Lou allow such imperfect dolls to leave the Institute of Perfection?
UglyDolls has been trapped in pre-production limbo since 2011 when it was originally announced that animation studio Illumination has acquired the rights to the toys. However, Illumination pulled out and the film ended up being produced by STX Entertainment as part of their “family and animation” division. Robert Rodriguez was originally lined up to direct, however, the final film has been directed by Kelly Asbury who also directed Shrek 2 (2002) and Gnomeo & Juliet (2014). And, while UglyDolls is not as entertaining as the likes of Shrek 2 and doesn’t have the same level of tweedy charm to it as Gnomeo & Juliet, it isn’t a complete disaster as say The Queen’s Corgi (2019).
The film’s songs are hit and miss, with the first song being an opportunity for Kelly Clarkson to let it rip. However, it is Nick Jonas’ little number called “The Ugly Truth” which is the most memorable and reinforces the idea that animated villains have all the best songs. Jonas and Clarkson do seem to give the film some much-needed energy and charm, although the rest of the voice talent delivers the best that they can with the weak script. Not all the jokes land, but the humour is well-meaning and doesn’t feel mean spirited. And, there are a few jokes aimed at the adults that will certainly generate a chuckle or two.
UglyDolls feels a little flat in terms of its animation which is the biggest issue with the film. The town of “Uglyville” is by far the most colourful and energetic looking setting in the film, however, we barely spend enough time there, with the majority of the story taking place in the bland, artificially looking Institute of Perfection. One has to wonder whether the film would have faired better if it had been released straight to DVD rather than being released in the cinemas, as I suspect the audience who would most appreciate this film wouldn’t be able to sit still in a large, dark room for nearly an hour and a half.
Overall, UglyDolls struggles to sustain our attention and as a result, it doesn’t leave a great impression. The film’s message is one about loving yourself and accepting your imperfections which is a powerful message to have in a film aimed at children. However, at the end of the day, UglyDolls just needed to have a little more life and originality in order to be memorable.
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