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Wednesday, May 08, 2019

UglyDolls

The latest merchandising trend to get their own movie, UglyDolls are cute, blobby and misshapen stuffed toys that I'm sure look cute on a store shelf, or in a child's room.  As characters in a film, however, they don't quite hold the personality of the Lego characters.  This is a bright and energetic film that sadly falls flat when it comes to narrative and personality.  Little kids will like it (very, very little kids), but I'd say if you're pushing 10, you won't find much here.

With a story dreamed up by Robert Rodriguez (he also serves as a producer), and direction by animation veteran Kelly Asbury, one would hope that this would at least hold some imagination or clever humor to entertain the parents in the audience.  However, it would seem that the filmmakers saw this strictly as a marketing piece, and not just to sell toys.  The movie has been cast almost top to bottom with pop stars and rap artists, who contribute multiple songs to the soundtrack that sound cheerful, but don't linger in your mind.  That seems to be how the whole movie goes down.  Everything is cheerful and colorful, but nothing sticks.  Not the world these characters exist in, not the characters themselves, and certainly not the listless story, which seems to be cobbled together from the cliches of other animated films.  An effort is being made here, but it all falls flat.

As the film opens, we learn that dolls that are made in a factory and come off the assembly line looking odd or misshapen are thrown down a tunnel, which leads to UglyVille.  It's here that the various UglyDolls live, and our lead heroine, a spunky and pink little thing called Moxy (voice by Kelly Clarkson), introduces the audience to her friends with a rousing pop song about how life just can't get any better.  Turns out the song is a lie, however, as Moxy dreams of leaving UglyVille behind, and going to the "big world", a mythical place where a child chooses a special toy, and bonds with them.  Moxy knows that there is a little girl out there that she is meant to be with, and decides to explore a large pipe with some of her friends to see where it leads to.  Turns out it leads to the town of Perfection, where "pretty dolls" are put through a rigorous process to learn to be the perfect toy for children in the "big world". 

The leader of the "pretty dolls" is Lou (Nick Jonas), a blond-haired crooner who immediately shuns Moxy and her UglyDoll friends, but decides to let them participate in his training to be perfect toys, mostly to ridicule and humiliate them in front of everyone.  But Moxy lives up to her name, and won't give up on her dream.  She befriends one of the "pretty dolls" named Mandy (Janelle MonĂ¡e), who is not as perfect as she seems. (She wears glasses, but doesn't want anyone to know she has poor vision.) Along the way, there are a lot of musical numbers performed by the voice cast to pad out the running time to 90 minutes.  It's all well-meaning, but very thin stuff.  There's little invention in the way of storytelling, and not really any jokes for the adults that will fly over the kids' heads.  This movie is so toothless and harmless, I have to wonder how it got a PG-rating, when a G obviously would have done just fine for something like this.

UglyDolls sticks to a tried and true children's film formula that can best be described as "Self Esteem Building for Dummies".  Moxy is the sort who doesn't let anything get her down, until she learns a shocking secret about somebody she trusted, which sends her spiraling into a depression and almost giving up on her dreams, until a good friend lifts her spirits back up, and she tries again, ultimately succeeding, and learning that she is beautiful on the inside and out.  Yes, you have seen that movie a number of times, and probably much better than this.  While the film is never unwatchable, it just never deviates from the norm.  Even the characters are total stock.  Moxy is a one-note upbeat heroine, Lou is a villain with no real motivation, and Moxy's friends mostly stand in the background and nod their heads in agreement with her.  When I heard the unmistakable voice of Wanda Sykes as one of Moxy's friends, I had hope that she would at least deliver some funny one liners.  But, the movie gives her nothing to do.

This has been designed as a corporate product for small children from top to bottom.  As long as it sells some more toys and music soundtracks, its done its job.  When you consider some of the great efforts in animation that have been on screens the past few years, UglyDolls feels like a throwback to a time when animation was largely a corporate industry selling junk.  I can't imagine anyone being nostalgic for that time period, so it makes you wonder why the filmmakers thought this would fly.

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