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Depending on your level of modern children's toy knowledge, you may or may not be familiar with Uglydolls. The name says it all, as the plush toys are not designed to look traditionally beautiful, but to look, well ugly. I'm not sure how ugly any of the Uglydolls really are, but like some toy brands that came before, they've now made the leap to the big screen, complete with their own pop music soundtrack.
Uglyville is a town inhabited by slightly disfigured sentient dolls. Some are missing eyes and others are malformed in some other way. Our lead doll is Moxy (voiced by Kelly Clarkson), a doll of boundless energy and optimism whose basically a red blob with some sort of growth coming out of her head. Her dream is to leave Uglyville for the "big world," a fabled place where dolls are loved by human children, a place other dolls tell her doesn't really exist.
However, her quest for the big world leads her and her friends (voiced by Pitbull and Wanda Sykes among others) to Perfectville. There they meet Lou (voiced by Nick Jonas) as the leader of a collection of nearly identical humanoid dolls who are judged on their perfection before being allowed to cross a portal into the big world. While our Uglydolls are immediately ostracized for their appearance, they decide to stay in order to get their chance at being loved by human children.
Certainly, at this point, the basic premise of conscious children's toys who exist in a world that humans never see should sound pretty familiar. Uglydolls is a little bit of Toy Story and a little bit of The LEGO Movie, mixed together, with some specific elements very obviously borrowed. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, but to be sure, Uglydolls is no Toy Story or LEGO Movie.
Ultimately, Uglydolls is really little more than a delivery device for pop music. As a movie whose cast includes the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, Pitbull and Janelle Monae, that's maybe not too surprising. The music is fine, as far as it goes. It's got some energy to it and is enjoyable enough while you're listening to it, but it certainly isn't going to stick with adults and I have trouble believing even the kids will be playing any of the songs over and over again until their parents go crazy, as every great song in a family movie should be.
If I'm going to put on my movie critic hat and give Uglydolls a serious breakdown, it has to be said that the film is utterly unoriginal. You've seen this movie before. A group of outcasts battle homogenized perfection, and eventually everybody, including the "different' people, come to realize that the imperfections are what make people unique and special. The story is simple and you'll likely be able lay out every major plot beat from beginning to end once things get rolling.
Predictable plot beats aren't unforgivable, but when the expected moments happen, they're just not handled well. A backstory between Lou and another characters is set up, and the payoff comes just in the way you expect it will, but when it comes, it's rushed through and given no emotional weight, making it all feel pointless.
Almost none of the characters have arcs to speak of. Janelle Monae's Mandy, one of the "perfect" dolls, probably comes the closest, but she, along with every other supporting character, isn't given enough time to develop so any change that does take place is superficial at best. Instead, characters are painted in the broadest strokes and given a basic personality trait (the nervous one, the loud one, the mean one) in place of actual personality.
Having said all that, Uglydolls is a kids movie and it should be judged as such. The movie isn't predictable if you've never actually seen this story before. The characters are simple, but that makes them easy to understand and follow. The film's message may be obvious to some, but just because it's obvious and unsubtle doesn't mean it's not important. Kids should absolutely learn that there's nothing wrong with being different, and if Uglydolls is the move that teaches them that, so be it.
Uglydolls is truly a "kids movie" because while kids will likely enjoy it (the one seated not far from me at my screening certainly did) there just isn't a lot there to keep their parents entertained. The broad, multi-layer, humor and story that appeals to all ages that we've come to expect from the best animated films is missing here. This one is laser focused on the younger set. But if the worst thing that happens with Uglydolls is mom and dad get to snack on popcorn for 90 minutes and then get to leave with a smiling child, that's hardly the worst possible outcome.