Genre: CG Animation
Director: Kelly Asbury
Cast: Kelly Clarkson, Blake Shelton, Nick Jonas, Janelle Monáe, Pitbull, Wanda Sykes, Emma Roberts, Gabriel Iglesias, Wang Leehom
Runtime: 1 hr 27 mins
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 6 June 2019
Synopsis: In the adorably different town of Uglyville, weird is celebrated, strange is special and beauty is embraced as more than simply meets the eye. Here, the free-spirited Moxy and her UglyDolls friends live every day in a whirlwind of bliss, letting their freak flags fly in a celebration of life and its endless possibilities, occasionally looking to the sky, where a new UglyDoll will appear and be embraced by the community. Moxy (Kelly Clarkson) loves her square-peg life in this round-hole town, but her curiosity about all things leads her to wonder if there’s something – anything – on the other side of the mountain which nestles Uglyville. Moxy gathers a group of her closest friends and sets off to find what’s on the other side. They discover another world – Perfection – a town where more conventional dolls are trained in protocols before they graduate and are sent to the “real” world to find the love of a child. In Perfection, Moxy and her crew are subject to the manipulations of Lou (Nick Jonas), the perfect doll in charge of training recruits. Here, the UglyDolls will confront what it means to be different, struggle with their desire to be loved, and ultimately discover that you don’t have to be perfect to be amazing because who you truly are is what matters most.
If you knew the story behind how David Horvath and his then-girlfriend Kim Sun-min created what would become a line of goofy-looking stuffed animal/ humanoid characters, you’d probably think how charming that may be material for a live-action movie about the genesis of UglyDolls. But clearly, the people behind this animation had something else in mind, which we discern to be ultimately about how to boost the sales of them colourful blobby plushies among kids; so in turn, they have recruited animation vet Kelly Asbury to craft a family-friendly musical about love and acceptance that would make the plushies even more appealing and likeable.
With a ‘story by’ credit to producer Robert Rodriguez, writers Alison Peck and Erica Rivinoja imagine a community where these plushies live together named Uglyville, after being pushed off the assembly line due to production defects. While most live in ignorant bliss, one of them, Moxy (Kelly Clarkson), wakes up each morning yearning to feel a child’s affection. After the latest arrival to the community from a hole in the mountain, Moxy decides to discover for herself just where they come from, bringing along a gaggle of quirky pals along for the adventure, including Lucky (Wang LeeHom), Ugly Dog (Pitbull), Wage (Wanda Sykes) and Babo (Gabriel Iglesias).
Their adventure leads them to the Institute of Perfection, a finishing school for dolls where they are put together a rigorous training programme in order to learn how to navigate such obstacles as dogs, vacuum cleaners and even babies. There, they meet its leader Lou (Nick Jonas), a perfectly coiffured doll adored by the females and admired by the males; though on the surface he seems to embrace Moxy and her band of misfits, Lou has no intention of letting them graduate, and instead makes use of the so-called lessons at the institute to tear them down. At the same time, Lou sends his trio of henchgirls (voiced by Bebe Rexha, Charli XCX, and Lizzo) to find out more about Uglyville where they came from, in order to obliterate the community of rejects.
It isn’t difficult to guess that Moxy will find the determination and tenacity to overcome Lou’s taunts and prove to herself, as well as the rest of the trainees at the institute, that their imperfections make them perfect as they are. This is as life-affirming stuff as it gets, what with the entire Uglyville community coming around to rally for Moxy as she faces Lou in a showdown within a stimulated house meant to test how ready the dolls are to face the real world. Lou’s selfish motivations are revealed, everyone at the institute realises how wrong they were to idolise him in the first place, and the communities of Uglyville and Perfection are integrated into one that is named Imperfection.
Did we mention too that the journey to happily-ever-after involves a whole lot of singing? As forgettable as they are, these peppy songs – most of them performed by Clarkson – help to liven the storytelling and do what they ought to in terms of telling the story. Given how this is aimed squarely at kids, there is no attempt to try to make the proceedings any more complicated than they need to be in order to endear to the younger ones. Ditto the self-positivity message, which is as clear and unequivocal as it gets, so that the kids will get it. We’re almost certain that they will lap it up, together with the vivid visuals and the lively pace at which the narrative moves.
And really, as long as you’re not expecting the sort of depth or nuance that Pixar’s films are often held up to, ‘UglyDolls’ works just fine for the kids. There is sheer visual appeal to the dolls themselves, each with their own physical and emotional idiosyncrasies; their banter is often amusing, with special mention to Sykes as the most cautious of Moxy’s gang and to the trio who gamely lend their ditsiest selves to Lou’s spies; and last but not least, there is the whole storytelling itself, which most, if not all, parents will approve, given the simple but uplifting message that kids will easily take away. It’s harmless fun all right, and even if that comes at the expense of being true to its title, we suspect its target audience will be perfectly alright with this piece of pretty (slick) entertainment.
(There's nothing ugly about this perfectly pretty slice of kids' entertainment that packs colourful visuals, peppy singing and an uplifting message into a brisk one-half hours)
Review by Gabriel Chong