Thanks to the success of The Lego Movie, films based on popular toy lines are coming back into fashion. No, it’s not a new trend, but they’ve become more successful than ever, and have become a near-fully successful tool in create a surge in sales. The first to follow suit was 2016’s Trolls, followed by 2017’s The Emoji Movie. With many others in development (such as one based on Funko Pop! Figures), it’s a trend that refuses to die, and the latest is based on the iconic plush toy line UglyDolls.
Set in an alternate reality, dolls, both animal and humanoid, are created and sent to their respective worlds in order to be prepped for life with their human child. However, any doll that doesn’t look “normal” is sent to the town of Uglyville, a placed where deformed “uglydolls” live together without a care in the world. They spend their days partying and eating sweats, with no knowledge of the larger world beyond, or no desire to ever be chosen by a kid.
But one uglydoll has a different idea. Moxy (Kelly Clarkson) dreams day-after-day of being chosen and making a kid happy. Almost desperate to get there, she drags her friends, UglyDog (Pitbull) Lucky Bat (Wang Leehom), Wage (Wanda Sykes), and Babo (Gabriel Iglesias) on an adventure that leads them to the Institute of Perfection, where human dolls are molded and trained to be as perfect as possible.
Moxy believes that this is the way to the “Big World” she has been dreaming of. Unfortunately for them, they find themselves at the mercy of Lou (Nick Jonas), the head of the Institute who is disgusted by their different appearances and flaws. But Moxy isn’t about to let her dream die because she isn’t perfect. With the help of a perfect doll named Mandy (Janelle Monáe), the uglydolls will prove that perfection doesn’t equal happiness.
It’s easy to see why they picked the uglydolls for their own movie. Their unique appearances and variety of characters were an instant draw for kids of that era. Today, despite not being as big as they were, uglydolls continue to have a fan base, and a film would be just what they need to create a resurgence in sales, especially with the new lines based on the characters’ new designs.
Unfortunately, their big screen debut doesn’t really offer much. UglyDolls tries its best to be on the level of The Lego Movie, but several different obstacles cause it to stumble way too many times to hold together. There are quite a few aspects that bring the film down, and despite a few peppy pop beats that may keep some kids entertained, nothing about this movie offers anything of real value when compared to the films that obviously inspired it.
It all really begins with the story. The film feels like a full-on rip-off of Trolls, with similar animation styles, songs, and messages. The movie feels like bits and pieces of other, better kids movies crammed together in a hodgepodge that never really goes anywhere. It ultimately feels like someone wanted to make a classic so badly, yet couldn’t come up with any new ideas, so they decided to take the best parts of other films and mash them together while still treating it like a game changing event.
Another area of struggle is the animation. For being a movie made for $45 million dollars, it looks about as cheap as possible without looking incomplete. The design of the characters are often off-putting with their big eyes and flat colors, and their mouths never quite match up with whatever they’re saying. At times, it looks like the style of early Veggietales animations. While the sets are slightly will rendered, they never quite reach the heights they were so clearly trying to reach.
The next obstacle is the rather poor voice cast. The majority of the cast is made up of pop stars and rappers, artists not all that experienced in voice acting. It’s clear they were looking for stars to pull off the “musical” aspect of the film, but there are plenty of real actors out there who have proven that they have musical talent. The fact that they cast people known for singing means that none of the vocal performances were even halfway decent. They nailed the singing (kind of), but when actually acting, that’s where they fail.
There’s no denying the kind of message this film is trying to say: “Embrace your flaws, love yourself.” Though it is a good message, it hard to figure out whether or not the movie thinks that too. The messages here range from funny gags, to genuine lessons, to rather harsh criticisms about the dangers of conformity (if any?). We never get a sense of how seriously they want us to think about it when the film’s seriousness about it keeps changing.
This also feeds into the problem of the film’s strange target audience. The film’s use of formula and overall low quality scream “pre-school/daycare background noise.” It’s is too chaotic and badly written for adults to enjoy, while the pop star cast isn’t really enough for older kids to get anything out of it. The movie feels like it’s made for toddlers, as an early tool in teaching them to be themselves. The problem is that they’re are too young to truly understand that, let alone understand the popularity of the stars or the various pop culture references.
UglyDolls presents nothing we haven’t already seen before, and does so in a fashion that’s no better than a TV movie you’d see on Nickelodeon of Disney Channel. Its presentation of its morals are rather harsh, the cast is very badly chosen, the animation is pretty cheap-looking, and the only people who would get anything from this are too young to really understand it. It’s hard to tell who this movie is made for, and while some might enjoy it, it doesn’t feel like it’ll leave that big a mark on the animation industry, let alone become a classic.