In a summer full of films centering around toys, with Child’s Play and Toy Story 4 on the horizon, UglyDolls gets the season off to a horrible start. UglyDolls features a story about how being different is actually a wonderful gift, yet the film itself is a collection of tried-and-true rehashed animation tropes in a bland package. UglyDolls doesn’t just assume the old adage that “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” but also ascribes to the idea “if it’s broke, that’s fine, too.”
Not that that’s a bad thing for Moxy (voiced by Kelly Clarkson) to hear. Living in UglyVille – which is essentially a landfill of broken toys outside a factory – Moxy sings in the opening song about how what could be better than her life with equally broken toys, living together in harmony? Except Moxy’s ultimate goal is to escape the confines of UglyVille to find a child who loves her for who she is. She’s not discontent, she just longs for something more, despite having just performed a song about how perfect her life is.
This is the kind of weird choice that UglyDolls makes over and over: this doesn’t make sense, the message is unclear, but who cares anyway? This is just a way to sell toys and throw some colored images on the screen. Even near the end, standout character Wage (Wanda Sykes) points out that there’s no way of telling how long this story has taken. Again, it doesn’t matter. Director Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2) and writers Alison Peck and Erica Rivinoja seem to be winging the entire film, knowing that kids won’t be paying enough attention to really care.
Moxy ends up leaving UglyVille with her friends Wage, Babo (Gabriel Iglesias), Ugly Bat (Leehom Wang) and Ugly Dog (Pitbull) in order to find a kid that will appreciate her. In doing this, the group ends up in the land of Perfection, where the flawless toys go. Run by the maniacal and superior Lou (Nick Jonas) and shadowed by his group of female fans (voiced by Bebe Rexha, Charli XCX,and Lizzo), he immediately points out that these broke toys will never be loved by any child. Yet one of Lou’s former devotees, Mandy (Janelle Monáe) decides to help the UglyDolls prove that even broken toys deserve love too.
In case the cast didn’t give this away, yes, UglyDolls is also a musical. The songs are expectedly flat, and artists like Charli XCX and Lizzo barely even get a single line in a song, instead preferring Clarkson, Pitbull, Nick Jonas, and Blake Shelton, who plays UglyVille’s mayor. At the very least, UglyDolls does also allow Monáe to shine, with the best musical moments in the film centering around her. But considering the talent within UglyDolls, it’s insane that Wanda Sykes has just as many lines to sing as Lizzo.
Even by the title, it’s clear that UglyDolls ultimate message is being different is okay – a moral that countless animated films have already tackled before, in much better fashion. While it’s fine to make a movie in order to sell product, as least a film like The Lego Movie does with with style. Instead, UglyDolls is as lazy as possible, without an inspired bone in its deformed body. Just listen to Shelton’s dead delivery and try to admit to yourself that his entire part wasn’t recorded during breaks of The Voice. Even a major action moment near the end is a clear ripoff of Toy Story 3’s climactic furnace scene. For a story about uniqueness and standing out, UglyDolls is about as generic a story you can make on those themes.