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UglyDolls – Movie Review

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UglyDolls – Movie Review

Rating: D+ (Bad)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy VVS Films

Even before The LEGO Movie, the idea of making animated productions based on toys has been around for a while. This was especially prevalent in the 1980s and watching UglyDolls does bring to mind a decade when executives would notice a popular toy and find it worthy of a movie or Saturday morning cartoon. There is that feeling with how it peddles its simple message and colour-coordinated protagonists. There is a decent amount of talent involved in UglyDolls, including director Kelly Asbury and producer Robert Rodriguez, but the final result has little in the way of substance. It primarily throws bright colours at children and while it never becomes actively annoying, it’s an easily forgettable experience.

The best way to describe UglyDolls is if someone decided Toy Story required a prequel that looked into why the toys came alive. That sounds simple enough, but this film is surprisingly overcomplicated. The movie creates an elaborate history of where toys are born and how they train to become children’s play things. Despite all of this, the story is rather thin as are the central UglyDolls we follow on this journey. There is the perky group leader who dreams of more and that’s about as much character development as she is given. While we do have a doll dog who acts hip and an apron-wearing doll with a sassy attitude, the other dolls simply fade into the background most of the time.

The main antagonists come courtesy of a town of “perfect dolls”, so the movie can force feed a message about appreciating one’s own qualities. That’s a good lesson for children, but the attempts to sell this come across as sappy most of the time. The central villain has a convoluted back story and motivation of his own, but it doesn’t make him more interesting. A lot of the humour falls flat, as the script relies on easy and extremely telegraphed gags. The movie keeps such a bouncy and colourful tone that when a sudden tonal shift occurs, it feels jarring and the filmmakers go overboard on this story turn.

The brightest spots in UglyDolls come from the songs. Written by Christopher Lennertz and Glenn Slater, the tunes have a poppy and catchy quality to them and they wouldn’t be out of place in a modern Broadway musical. The opening number, “Couldn’t Get Better”, stands a good chance of staying stuck in a viewer’s head, while the stand-out sequence comes from “Unbreakable.” A duet between Kelly Clarkson and Janelle Monae, this scene feels the most like a Kelly Asbury-directed sequence and one wishes the rest of the movie was on par. The lyrics are especially important for children to hear, although the message will be relatable to many. UglyDolls is also a nice looking film, with UglyVille showing a lot of creativity in its design and the animators do a good job on the characters.

There are a few creative elements that pop up in UglyDolls and its heart is certainly in the right place. However, what should be a simple story creates more questions than can be answered and the characters are unfortunately undercooked. The ingredients are there and it’s not hard to make comparisons to Asbury’s previous film, the delightful Smurfs: The Lost Village. That piece of animated joy explored similar ideas with its village of bright, colourful creations and UglyDolls certainly tries to replicate its magic. The movie’s soundtrack is especially good, but the story doesn’t quite measure up.

Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison