'UglyDolls': Film Review

UglyFilm.
5/3/2019

Reject toys learn to embrace their flaws in this decidedly unlovely animated musical voiced by Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, Janelle Monáe and others.

It's been a long road to the big screen for the plush monstrosities known as UglyDolls. Though they were first created in 2001 by David Horvath and his soon-to-be-wife Sun-min Kim, it wasn't until a decade later, after the adorably hideous toys had grown in popularity, that the film rights were snapped up and ultimately split between American (STX Entertainment) and Chinese (Alibaba Pictures; Huaxia Film) interests.

Robert Rodriguez, who knows his way around spy kids, sharkboys and lavagirls, was signed to direct. Stuff happened, as it always does, and Rodriguez left the project (he remains a credited producer). Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and Smurfs: The Lost Village auteur Kelly Asbury replaced him. Finally, nearly eight years on from the signing of all the brand extension contracts, here is the primarily pop-star-voiced animated musical UglyDolls, an imbecilic eyesore that could lay claim to being one of the worst movies ever made if it was worth such hyperbole.

Best to dispense with the film as quickly as audiences surely will — we've got Sonic the Hedgehog and Detective Pikachu to get to, after all! Moxy (voice of Kelly Clarkson) has got spunk. What this pink, sentient, gap-toothed plaything doesn't have is a human companion, something she sings bullishly about, in the first of several maddeningly bouncy tunes, to her friends and neighbors in UglyTown, a village on the far side of…where exactly?

A factory, to be precise. What Moxy doesn't know is that she and her fellow Uglies — with names like Bobo (voice of Gabriel Iglesias), Ugly Dog (voice of Pitbull) and Wage (voice of Wanda Sykes) — are rejects from a workshop assembly line. Instead of heading to Perfection, a kind of commune/trade school for aesthetically pleasing toys, they're redirected to UglyTown. There, corn-pone Mayor Ox (voice of Blake Shelton) tries to help every one of the amiable non-beauties under his care live in blissfully segregated ignorance.

Moxy's curiosity gets the better of her, of course. And at the urging of tea leaves read by wise sage Lucky Bat (voice of Leehom Wang, because every Asian person is a wise sage who reads tea leaves), our rose-hued heroine embarks, with petrified pals in tow, on a transformative journey. Standing in the way is Perfection's monomaniacal ruler/crooner Lou (voice of Nick Jonas), who's like Adolf Hitler reborn as Justin Timberlake. His final solution: Rid the world of every flawed toy, come hell or the high water of the washing machine into which he often tosses our poor heroes. Janelle Monáe is around, too, as the not-so-"perfect" Mandy, whom Moxy befriends and sings a few treacly power ballads alongside.

The morals of the tale: Love your flaws. Nobody's perfect. Everybody needs somebody sometime. Yada yada. Thanks a lot, $45 million corporate product based on a toy line! I'd have never known.

Anything nice to say? Um, it's kinda cool that the moon in UglyTown is a broken button. Uh, the training montage set to a Hall and Oates perennial is…fine. And, well, it's pretty funny in a meta sort of way when, at the Uglies' lowest point, one of them displays a sign that reads "Closed Due to Hopelessness." I feel that.

Production companies: STX Entertainment, Alibaba Pictures, Huaxia Film
Voice cast: Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, Janelle Monáe, Blake Shelton, Pitbull, Gabriel Iglesias, Wanda Sykes, Leehom Wang, Charli XCX, Bebe Rexha, Lizzo, Emma Roberts

Director: Kelly Asbury
Screenwriters: Alison Peck, Erica Rivinoja, Vivian Wang
Based on characters by: David Horvath, Sun-min Kim
Producers: Jane Hartwell, Robert Rodriguez
Associate producers: Andrea McCarthy Paul, Vivian Wang
Music: Christopher Lennertz
Editing: Julie Rogers, Nolan Southerland
Casting: Ruth Lambert, Robert McGee
Art director: Ravinder Kundi

Rated PG, 87 minutes