Mining nearly every corner of the toy aisle for new movie ideas is nothing new, but it does sometimes give us puzzling choices. The current poster child for this flawed development process is UglyDolls.
Based on the line of intentionally misshapen felt friends, UglyDolls starts at the factory. We see the conveyor belt fill with perfect dolls and stuffed animals, only to have the few occasionally off specimens be taken from the line and tossed up a shaft. From here, these “ugly” dolls go to Uglyville.
If you like obvious naming conventions, you are in for a treat here. In fact, the dolls in this town even discuss the fact that they give literal names to so many of the town’s locations and inhabitants. My personal favorite might be the “exposition robots,” because they at least have a little fun with the fact that certain characters and scenes exist solely to regurgitate exposition.
The plot of UglyDolls is simple enough. Moxy (Kelly Clarkson) is the eternal optimist in Uglyville and wakes up every day convinced that she’s going to the “Big World” to meet the child who will love her forever. Though her friends around town don’t share her fantasy of leaving Uglyville, they’re all kind to her and indulge her.
With a little help from her friends, Moxy and a group of the other UglyDolls make their way through the chute, back to the factory, and into the Institute of Perfection. There, along with the gaggles of “perfect” dolls, our ugly friends will go through trials to prepare them for the Big World and loving children. Lou (Nick Jonas) rules that land, and his love for perfection means that he has nothing but contempt for the UglyDolls.
You’d think that a kids’ movie about ugliness and perfection would easily be able to craft a strong and cohesive message to the audience about embracing uniqueness, the superficiality of outward beauty, or the fact that looks shouldn’t matter at all, but UglyDolls never settles on a single message. It’s far too concerned with wedging in as many musical numbers as possible and painfully awkward jokes for parents. And for a film that eventually gets around to being about perfection not being important, the makeover sequence and song feel very out of place.
On top of all this murkiness is some uninteresting animation. The felt dolls look reasonably cute and fuzzy and their town has a kiss of Seussical whimsy, but their eyes look like someone took traditional ink and pen animation to the rendered computer animations. The plastic dolls which exemplify perfection are smooth and uniform, but they’re also rather dull.
The characters are nice enough and the songs catchy enough, but the lackluster animation, ambiguous messaging, and forced humor make UglyDolls something to be tolerated rather than celebrated.