‘UglyDolls’ tells a familiar story about self-confidence and acceptance with an off-putting visual style.
Kernel Rating: 1.5 (1.5 out of 5)
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 92 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 4+. This animated film follows a community of “uglydolls” who are rejected from a toy factory and create their own town, where they are unaware that they are unattractive or unwanted. The film emphasizes self-confidence and acceptance, including some scenes of bullying, kidnapping, and increasingly physically demanding tests and obstacle courses to prove worthiness. There’s a close call with a recycling machine that looks like it would eat the dolls, some scary falls, and some threatening robots; some crushes and flirting between a few characters, including one time a character offers another some wine; and some rude jokes and insults.
By Roxana Hadadi
“UglyDolls” offers an admirable message: that you should love yourself, no matter what you look like, and that others should accept you, too. But the film isn’t exactly consistent in that messaging, using bullying and conflict to arrive at its final themes, and this animation style is so off-putting that it may be more worthwhile to watch any other children’s films that offers this same idea instead.
Because to be clear, “UglyDolls” is not a unique endeavor. Films like “Toy Story,” “Storks,” and “The Boss Baby” have all worked with these themes, too, of individuals being created in a factory-like setting and then working to find their own uniqueness. And the animated style of “Toy Story” in particular has advanced so much over three films that there is an undeniable beauty to how Woody, Buzz, and their fellow toys talk and move.
The animation of “UglyDolls,” in contrast, never quite achieves anything close to grace. The textures are flat, the color palette veers between neon and monochrome, and the uglydolls themselves move their mouths to talk in an unsettling way that looks like a particularly popular online meme. The production design of the town where the uglydolls live looks quite like “Trolls,” with the buildings evoking scrapbooking techniques and the dolls looking like they are made of felt, but that design disappears when they visit the Institute of Perfection, where the “perfect” dolls live. Coupled with the lack of originality from the narrative itself, every element of “UglyDolls” feels derivative from another animated film.
“UglyDolls” centers on young Moxy (voiced by Kelly Clarkson), a doll who is convinced that “there’s a child for every doll,” and who is determined to find a young girl or boy to love. But every day that passes and she doesn’t connect with a child is a blow, one that her friends aren’t sure how to handle. And when Moxy realizes that there is a way out of their town, and that it leads to another area where more conventionally attractive, human-like dolls live, she is convinced that this is where they belong so they can be paired with a child.
What Moxy doesn’t realize about the Institute of Perfection, which basically operates as a training ground for dolls before they are given away as gifts, is that it is run with almost tyrannical zeal by Lou (voiced by Nick Jonas), who is worshipped by the other dolls for his good looks. Moxy is too good-natured to realize that Lou agrees to keep Moxy around so he can bully her and the other “uglydolls,” but to his shock, they work hard and excel at the increasingly difficult tests he places upon them. And his bad attitude pushes away dolls like Mandy (voiced by Janelle Monáe), who knows that her less-than-perfect eyesight will be judged by Lou but accepted by Moxy and her community.
“UglyDolls” follows these two groups as they figure out how to coexist, and Mandy’s transformation in particular is highlighted as worthy of respect. But very young viewers may be confused by the contrasting ways “Uglydolls” approaches beauty. The uglydolls are supposed to not know that they are conventionally unattractive because of their missing eyes and limbs and misshapen parts, but sometimes they call themselves “freaks”; in contrast, the “perfect” dolls aren’t supposed to know the uglydolls exist, but they immediately treat them with scorn and disdain. What the film is trying to say about attractiveness and acceptance is a little unclear, and the film’s final development feels a bit condescending, too.
“UglyDolls” is a low-stakes diversion for young viewers, but perhaps only when it airs on television; after all, the movie itself is a tie-in for a line of toys that will surely be advertised more now that the movie exists. As a theater experience, though, “UglyDolls” is skippable.
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