Directed by Kelly Asbury
Featuring the voice talents of Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, Janelle Monáe, Blake Shelton, Pitbull, Emma Roberts, Wanda Sykes, Gabriel Iglesias, Wang Leehom, Charli XCX, Bebe Rexha, and Lizzo.
An animated adventure in which the free-spirited UglyDolls confront what it means to be different, struggle with a desire to be loved, and ultimately discover who you truly are is what matters most.
UglyDolls is an uninspired slog expressing the worthwhile message that outward appearances are irrelevant. As the world (social media in particular) seems to become more shallow by the day, that is undeniably a strong theme to ground an animated feature into, almost to the point where it seems completely impossible to miss out on hitting the intended emotional needs. Somehow, UglyDolls fails to do so, also containing some of the blandest cartoon characters in quite some time and a slew of lengthy musical numbers performed by a plethora of talented musicians that honestly should be literally anywhere else besides lending their vocals to this misfire.
Directed by Kelly Asbury who is most known for Shrek 2 and 2017’s Smurfs: The Lost Village (neither of them necessarily bad movies), it’s easy to see that he is most likely having trouble breathing life into what is the brainchild of numerous people; apparently UglyDolls comes from a story by Robert Rodriguez, has characters created by David Horvath and Sun-min Kim, and a script hammered out by three different writers. With so many cooks in the kitchen, it almost seems destined UglyDolls would fail to have a unique and imaginative or coherent vision that sparks some magic regarding its concerns about the importance placed on physical looks.
Take the songs (which are easily the main attraction of the feature); they mostly go on forever repeating the same point over and over across every verse with cookie-cutter lyrics and generic mainstream pop appeal. Some of the segments are so long that you won’t be blamed for checking your watch as they drag on and on, not really saying anything different from the last line or much of anything interesting. Not only that, but even when they finish and the movie launches into another scene, more often than not the song will start up again to reveal it’s not finished quite yet. Kelly Clarkson, Janelle Monae, Nick Jonas, Blake Shelton, etc. are all superb at their craft, but they don’t have any lyrically powerful songwriting to go off of or even a compelling story to create good songs from.
Also bizarre is that for a narrative primarily dealing with defective dolls happily living in their own utopia underneath the training grounds for aesthetically-pleasingly designed dolls, where one of the titular ugly dolls wants to break away from her isolation and go through that rigorous preparation necessary before becoming a long-lasting friend of a human child, there are no actual human characters in the movie. Instead, Kelly Clarkson’s Moxy and her band of misfit friends (all of which purposely look painstakingly boring, which is fine given the context of the story, but unforgivably have no likable personalities) attempt to rise up to the challenges from Nick Jonas’ Lou, a pretty boy doll that preaches beauty as the be-all end-all to acceptance while training other dolls to, I suppose become pretty through random exercises. An unorthodox approach is never a bad thing, but it’s also clear that no one put any serious thought into this beyond the admittedly clever idea of throwing the puppets into a washing machine as punishment for not living up to expectations.
There are attempts from Kelly Asbury to make this slightly more tolerable; if the unfolding events appear bleak for our heroes, the color palette becomes appropriately gloomy and washed out. The animation team assembled for him do their best to add a great deal of detail but unfortunately, are unable to reach any impressive heights. Occasionally, there is a joke that generates a small laugh. (references to Oliver Twist, characters poking fun at their imperfections, and a few lines from the trio of dimwitted girls sycophantic to Lou are fine).
That’s the thing, nothing in UglyDolls is downright terrible, but rather unbelievably boring, safe, cliché, predictable, and ultimately hollow. For a movie commenting on the vanity of physical appearances, it’s also probably not a good idea to have a song in it about purchasing trendy clothes. Misguided detours aside, there is a message here that kids need to hear, but they aren’t going to want to pay attention to this muck, and no one can blame them. As for adults, they will be storming the exits halfway through the first 10-minute song.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com