Review: 'UglyDolls' is a tired story set to catchy music that will nevertheless delight kids

The ugly dolls of "UglyDolls".
The ugly dolls of "UglyDolls".

By Wong Jiamin

It’s the school holidays once again, which might drive parents to ask themselves that age-old question: Is there anything that can entertain the kids for an hour or two? If you have young children, the answer just might be UglyDolls.

However, if parents think they can just get away with paying for tickets and popcorn, think again, because this movie is just a thinly veiled advertisement for a range of – you guessed it – ugly dolls. You might just end up with your kids begging for one of their own once the credits roll.

UglyDolls tells the story of Moxy (Kelly Clarkson), a citizen of Uglyville. The town is full of mismatched dolls and toys that are flawed and imperfect, but are otherwise full of life. As a toy, Moxy’s dream is to be chosen by a child, but this is deemed an impossible one by her friends Lucky Bat (Wang Leehom), Ugly Dog (rapper Pitbull), Wage (Wanda Sykes), Babo (Gabriel Iglesias) and Ox (Blake Shelton), the mayor of Uglyville.

It is only by chance that Moxy and her friends find a secret tunnel to the Institute of Perfection, where dolls that have passed the factory’s stringent standards are put through a series of tests before being released into the world to be chosen by a child. Their leader, a perfect doll named Lou (Nick Jonas) is eventually convinced to let the ugly dolls go through the same challenging tests to see if they are worthy of being chosen.

While perfect doll Mandy (Janelle Monáe) helps them to settle into the institute’s dorms, Lou sends the Spy Girls (played by Bebe Rexha, Charli XCX and Lizzo with aplomb) on a reconnaissance mission to find out where the ugly dolls came from.

Director Kelly Asbury and scriptwriter Alison Peck are not really reinventing the wheel here so much as just rehashing it. It’s tempting to compare this movie to DreamWorks’s Trolls (2016), but where the latter was full of madcap energy and fun psychedelic animation, UglyDolls is nothing more than a tired story set to a soundtrack stuffed to the gills with singing talent.

The overall message is a predictable one – being imperfect is what makes you perfect – but the script tries to make some commentary on the sky-high standards that society has for girls and women that doesn’t quite hit home. Still, the animation team has rendered the ugly dolls with a computer-generated fuzziness that is pleasing, and the characters are largely fun and adorable. The cast is talented, and UglyDolls an entertaining musical that is sure to please the whole family.

As Moxy, Clarkson channels every bit of earnestness and optimism possible, and it is easy for the audience to root for her character. However, the real standouts are Jonas as the suave but scheming Lou and Monáe as Mandy. Their respective musical numbers are the ones engineered to near pop perfection, complete with snazzy animated dance sequences.

But as toe-tapping as the songs might be, it’s still hard to shake off the general feeling of uneasiness, as if you should like it, but can’t. At the risk of sounding touchy-feely, there isn’t really much soul in the movie. It just feels like various narrative strands cobbled together into one 88 minute-long advertisement meant to sell more ugly dolls. It’s a pity, because as the success of movies like Trolls has shown, kids movies nowadays have so much more potential to be more than just a cheap money grab during the summer blockbuster season.

Score: 2.5/5

UglyDolls opens in cinemas 6 June, 2019 (Singapore)

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