(2019) (voices of Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas) (PG)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Computer-Animated Comedy/Musical: A number of unwanted, imperfect dolls set out for the real world where one hopes to become the perfect toy for a human child.
- In the small remote village of Uglyville, the various dolls who live there -- including Mayor Ox (voice of BLAKE SHELTON) -- embrace their imperfections and even the word "ugly" as something positive and special and welcome new similar toys that fall from the sky to join them.
Yet, one such toy, Moxy (voice of KELLY CLARKSON), yearns for the real world and having a human child view her as their perfect toy. Accordingly, she manages to convince her friends that include Ugly Dog (voice of PITBULL), Wage (voice of WANDA SYKES), Babo (voice of GABRIEL IGLESIAS) and Lucky Bat (voice of WANG LEEHOM) to join her in climbing up a steep cliff to get to the chute from where they all originally came.
After accomplishing that, they find themselves at the Institute of Perfection, a school of sorts run by Lou (voice of NICK JONAS) where toys are groomed to be the best of the best, including having to pass the simulated world Gauntlet Challenge. Lou is initially taken aback by the sight of the imperfect dolls, as is his trio of mean girls, Kitty (voice of CHARLI XCX), Tuesday (voice of BEBE REXHA), Lydia (voice of LIZZO).
Unlike another doll there, Mandy (voice of JANELLE MONAE), who tries to hide her imperfection of needing glasses while befriending Moxy and her friends, Lou, and his sycophants set out to mock and ridicule the outsiders before sending them off to be recycled. Undeterred, Moxy and her friends prepare for the Gauntlet Challenge.
- OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
- Most everyone's familiar with the old saying that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. Well, the same can be said about ugliness. I'm not talking about the behavioral definition of that word, although I guess those who agree and side with being mean, rude, disparaging and so on probably don't view that as a negative.
Instead, I'm referring to visual attributes, and to some degree, it's okay to say that certain inanimate objects -- houses, cars, clothing and so on -- are ugly. And sometimes it's alright to think that about animals if it's done in an "Oh look, he's so ugly that he's actually cute" endearing sort of way. But it's never, ever, ever, okay to say that about people.
Yet, it happens all of the time around the world, sometimes related to one's body if something "out of the ordinary" is noted, but usually is more applicable to one's face. Either way, it's hurtful, stings in the moment, and ends up burrowing into the psyche of the unfortunate recipient of such remarks.
All of which brings us to the Ugly Dolls toy line that was created mostly by accident by David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim and debuted in 2001, going on to win the Specialty Toy of the Year award by the Toy Industry Association just five years later. Featuring a line of characters who aren't pretty in the traditional doll sense, I can only imagine they've provided comfort to kids who've been bullied over some aspect of their appearance while teaching tolerance to others.
I have to admit that I have a bit of an issue with the name of the brand from the related negative connotations, but in their defense, the word ugly is defined as being unique or special. Apparently, enough people bought into that spin on the word that the toys became a hit and, not remotely surprising, Hollywood came knocking.
The titular result, also not surprising to anyone, is "UglyDolls," a kid-friendly, computer-animated comedy musical hybrid that showcases that very notion of celebrating differences and not looking like the norm. The film should entertain younger viewers, features a good moral, and has some decent songs (that surprisingly feel like they all but evaporate in the second half). But in a world where the likes of Pixar (yes, I bring them up yet again for comparison's sakes) gets so much emotional and entertainment mileage out of fairly similar material, this offering ends up feeling only just okay.
And speaking of Pixar, one can't help but think of its "Toy Story" movies while watching this offering -- that's directed by Kelly Asbury from a script by Alison Peck -- as the similarities are simply too glaring to ignore. Throw in some Island of Misfit Toys from the old "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" animated short and even "Trolls" (that also had its share of musical numbers accompanying all of the pastel colors) and this film already has something of an uphill comparative battle facing it.
That said, the very youngest of viewers (who aren't so cynical and/or possibly don't have the long memory of those other animated flicks) will probably enjoy it enough that parents and anyone else put in front of the film as viewer accompaniment likely won't cringe that much, if at all, while sitting through it.
The plot is fairly straightforward. There's a remote village known as Uglyville where the population grows as new residents - who embrace the word "ugly" as a good thing and use it quite liberally -- literally fall from the sky (actually a chute coming out of a cliff too high up for investigation).
Most are content, but as we hear and learn through a song that one of those dolls, Moxy (voiced by Kelly Clarkson), longs for the real world and having a child owner of her own to cherish all of her doll-ness. She convinces her friends (voiced by Blake Shelton, Pitbull, Wanda Sykes, Gabriel Iglesias, and Wang Leehom) to help her find th real world and they make their way not only up to that chute, but through it to a place known as Perfection.
There, a model-ready doll, Lou (Nick Jonas) rules the place like a singing dictator, has a trio of mean girls (Charli XCX, Bebe Rexha, And Lizzo) to do his bidding, and obviously looks down on Moxy and her friends upon their arrival. While prepping to pass his Gauntlet challenge - that proves whether a toy is ready to go to the real world - they must contend with Lou and his trio trying to undermine them, all while finding an ally in Mandy (Janelle Monae) who's been hiding an imperfection of her very own.
Along the way, kid viewers will learn about acceptance and tolerance while being entertained by the colorful title characters. But while they hopefully remember the lesson, it's unlikely they and anyone older in tow will recall much about this not long after seeing it. Far from ugly but certainly not as attractive (or good) as the "Toy Story" movies, "UglyDolls" rates as a 5 out of 10.
Reviewed April 18, 2019 / Posted May 3, 2019
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