It was a bumpy road to get an UglyDolls movie, based on the plush toys of the same name, into movie theaters as it was originally attached to Illumination (Despicable Me, Secret Life of Pets) and veteran director Robert Rodriguez (Alita, Spy Kids). Rodriguez remained involved as a producer, but he turned the directorial reins over to Kelly Asbury (Gnomeo & Juliet), while STX Entertainment distributed the film. It’s here now, though, so it’s time to get ugly.
In a world of dolls, those that end up irregular are sorted out and land in the makeshift town of Uglyville where they lead a happy existence. One of the dolls, Moxy (Kelly Clarkson), believes there to be more out there in the “big world,” where they’ll be paired with a child. While Mayor Ox (Blake Shelton) disputes the notion, Moxy and her friends decide to check out the hole where new dolls enter their world.
That exploration leads to the discovery of the Institute of Perfection, led by the hypercritical doll Lou (Nick Jonas), who prepares would-be children’s toys for entry into the world by running them through a series of tests. Despite clearly being unwelcome, Moxy and her friends — Ugly Dog (Pitbull), Lucky Bat (Wang Leehom), Wage (Wanda Sykes) and Babo (Gabriel Iglesias) — decide to try to pass nonetheless.
When the group proves impossible to dissuade, Lou sends some dolls to Uglyville to bring back Ox and explain to them that they don’t belong there because they were rejected by the factory, which is how they ended up down there. The news temporarily destroys morale in the town, but Moxy soon decides that she doesn’t believe that they don’t belong, and she returns with her friends to run the gauntlet even as Lou attempts to stop them.
In what should come as a surprise to no one, the “ugly” dolls are, in fact, adorable. The world itself doesn’t offer many new ideas, but it’s colourful and nicely animated. The voice acting is solid with a focus on singers that creates some good, upbeat songs that kids will doubtless like listening to again and again — the Blu-ray actually contains a “sing-a-long” version where all the lyrics appear across the bottom of the screen.
Its cutesy, keep-a-positive-attitude vibe should connect best with young kids. We had the chance to watch it with three between the ages of five and nine, and they were engaged throughout. At around 90 minutes it’s also the proper length for that age range, getting in and out and moving at a quick pace to keep their attention.
With young children being the focus it feels a little weird to use the word “ugly” so frequently, even though the message is about inner beauty (and yes, we understand that the name of the product is the uglydoll). There’s no redemption arc for the main villain, either, which also seems strange since it might’ve helped drive the message home a little more if interacting with all these upbeat dolls made him turn over a new leaf.
There are lots of children’s movies that cross over and appeal to older audiences as well. This isn’t one of them. Sure, the songs are cute, and adults will watch it for their kids, but there’s no winks and nods for the grown ups. Everything aims low, striking the same notes and telling a story you can see coming from a mile off. Granted, you can see the destination of most kid films, but it’d be nice to spice things up along the way.
THE BONUS FEATURES
It’s some seriously slim pickings on the extras front where a bunch of short TV spots with the cast are bundled together to make up around 10 minutes of content. The various trailers are also included, a one-time staple of bonus features that’s unfortunately fallen by the wayside over the years, but even with that this is pretty bare bones.
UglyDolls should produce some laughs and singing with younger kids, but it’s not one that figures to hold up that well to repeated viewing.