The main purpose of the animated UglyDolls film is to make viewers aware that there is a line of plush toys called UglyDolls that they can buy. In that sense, the movie is a rousing success. No one can watch this movie and come away not knowing that UglyDolls exist. It’s less praiseworthy as a piece of entertainment, but it’s better than a lot of toy-based content, with a positive (if oft-repeated) message for the kiddies.
It begins in Uglyville, the happy home of misshapen or irregular factory-rejected dolls, where the town itself is made of leftover scraps of fabric and plastic. An opening number clearly modeled after The LEGO Movie‘s “Everything Is Awesome” establishes that life here is great and couldn’t be better, except for one thing: Many residents of Uglyville cling to the hope that one day they’ll enter the “Big World” and become the playthings of human children. (Other residents think the Big World and children are a myth.)
The most optimistic of the Uglies is Moxy (voiced by Kelly Clarkson), who leads an expedition beyond Uglyville to find out where they came from and how they can fulfill their doll destinies. She and her cohorts (Wanda Sykes, Pitbull, Leehom Wang, and Gabriel Iglesias) find the Institute of Perfection, a cookie-cutter world where flawless dolls are taught by their teen-idol leader, Lou (Nick Jonas), how to be the best dolls they can be. Lou is beloved for his insightful ability to point out dolls’ minuscule imperfections (“That man can entertain and emotionally devastate like nobody else,” someone says), and the Uglies, obviously don’t stand a chance of passing his rigorous tests. Many of the Perfection residents are mean to the newcomers, but one, Mandy Janelle Monae), takes pity on them because she’s harboring a secret imperfection of her own.
The message, about embracing your flaws, quirks, and abnormalities as the things that make you special, is a welcome one. The pop songs, by Christopher Lennertz and Glenn Slater, are better than average. It’s mostly singers in the voice cast rather than actors (Blake Shelton, Bebe Rexha, Charli XCX, and Lizzo among them), but everyone except Pitbull does all right. (Pitbull gives line readings so bad I can’t imagine what the rejected takes sounded like.)
The best I can say for first-timer Alison Peck’s screenplay, though, is that it made me chuckle a few times (several lines are obviously intended for the adults in the audience) and I didn’t hate any of it. The world-building is half-baked, and director Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2, Gnomeo & Juliet) seems content to deliver a medium-grade, brightly colored babysitter rather than something memorable. I can’t quite recommend UglyDolls, but as one who saw the Bratz movie, believe me: This could have been so much worse.