Moxy (left) and the other UglyDolls (Photo: STX)
★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Kelly Asbury
STARS Kelly Clarkson, Janelle Monáe
One of the trailers shown before the screening of the new animated effort UglyDolls was for the upcoming Pixar release Toy Story 4. Even as someone who awarded all three previous Toy Story movies 4-star ratings and considers the trilogy one of the greatest in Hollywood history, I’m not sure the world needs a Toy Story 4. After sitting through the main attraction, I’m sure the world needed an UglyDolls 1 even less.
UglyDolls is based on a line of plush toys created back in 2001, and it was a logical option for an industry that has already produced movies based on plastic dolls, board games, video games, and even bubble gum cards. Furthermore, it hits all the beats expected of a film meant to entertain very small children and absolutely no one else. There are the colorfully rendered characters, the blandly pleasing pop songs, and the usual message of loving yourself while also loving everyone else. The only thing missing seems to be a reason to watch this when there are roughly 1,000 other kid flicks out there with similar themes and more compelling narratives, characters and visual designs.
With a story concocted by Robert Rodriguez (more in Spy Kids than Machete mode, obviously), this centers on Moxy (voiced by Kelly Clarkson), a misshapen doll who lives in Uglyville but dreams of being the proud property of a little girl. She and a few other misfits make it to the Institute of Perfection, which is where they learn that only beautiful toys make it into the real world — and even then only after rigorous training. They decide to take a shot anyway, but they’re undermined at every turn by Lou (Nick Jonas), the charismatic but duplicitous leader of the Institute.
For a major ($45 million budget) theatrical animated feature, UglyDolls looks awfully cheap, to the degree that one wonders why its makers didn’t hire that Game of Thrones cinematographer to plunge the entire picture into indecipherable darkness. Some inventive touches do manage to work their way into the proceedings (I like how buttons seem to be the form of currency in Uglyville), but for the most part, this is merely a shameless cash-grab that also displays no shame in grabbing from other toon flicks.
The “Everything Is Awesome” opening is borrowed from The LEGO Movie, while the climactic incinerator scene is outright stolen from Toy Story 3. It’s not the dolls themselves that are ugly in this film (they’re actually kinda cute), but rather the crippling laziness that’s most unattractive.