UglyDolls is basically a rip–off of two huge animated family franchises, Toy Story and Minions, with barely any of the wit or heart of either. Based on the toy line this doesn’t turn out to be another surprise like The LEGO Movie, instead UglyDolls is bland. Which is disheartening considering that it’s supposedly thematically about the importance being different. While there are a few solid unexpected good gags that randomly happen every once in a while the film is mostly indistinguishable from other generic animated comedy musicals. Despite the title this is not an ugly movie but it is a forgettable one.
When dolls are rejected from the factory floor they are sent down a chute to the land of UglyVille. There a doll named Moxy (Kelly Clarkson) dreams of finding a kid who will love her for who she is, although her town’s Mayor, Ox (Blake Shelton) tells her to stay home. Instead, she grabs her friends, Lucky Bat (Leehom Wang), Ugly Dog (Pitbull), Wage (Wanda Sykes) and Babo (Gabriel Iglesias), and they crawl up the mysterious chute. What they find is the Institute of Perfection, led by the smooth talking Lou (Nick Jonas), who prepares dolls for the outside world. While all of the dolls in his world are perfect and human looking the Ugly crew stand out like a sore thumb and continually fail his tests. But Moxy unexpectedly makes friends with one of the Perfection dolls, Mandy (Janelle Monae), who realizes that Lou’s way of life may be a lie.
Clarkson had an inauspicious film career kick off with From Justin to Kelly years ago and thankfully this is better. She settles for an aw–shucks eternal optimist loud tone that fits the tone of this movie. Her co–judge from The Voice Shelton is also very loud and dopey. In fact, loud and dopey is the overriding tone of almost all the UglyDoll characters although it is never extremely irritating. Pitbull’s Ugly Dog is supposed to be the cool one but ends up being kind of lame. Probably the only cast member who actually manages the cool and cute juxtaposition is Ice–T as Peggy an alarm clock unicorn that sometimes seems irritated at the prospect of starting a new day. Sykes also works well mostly because her voice sounds inherently funny coming from a weird looking doll. Jonas does smug superiority decently as the design of his character has a perpetual condescending smirk. Out of all of the characters, he’s the only one who has something of an interesting backstory when his motivation is revealed at the end.
The songs are a bit of a stumble which isn’t great since this is sold as a musical animated comedy. Animated musical comedies used to be huge and yet lately animated efforts from Illumination, Pixar and even freakin’ Disney have mostly dropped the musical numbers. The tunes in UglyDolls have an auto–tuned modern synth pop vibe which falls short of the sweeping orchestral songs of older animated musicals. The big duet between Clarkson and Monae about how far they can go is auto–tuned to blandness which is a shame since they can both actually sing. The opening number that Clarkson does is standard animated musical fare of wishing there was something out there but is still pretty good. Probably the best song is from Jonas as Lou because it’s fun whenever a bad guy sings about himself being awesome. He also gets in one of the movie’s better extended jokes when one of his cohorts is being dragged away and Lou says they can’t help him even though they clearly can.
The animation isn’t exactly outstanding and sometimes it looks dull as most of the movie is set in the Institute of Perfection which is basically a bland courtyard over a blue sky. Maybe they were trying to save money. UglyTown fares better visually because everything is misshapen. There are some good animated moments like when a big furnace that looks like a chomping monster threatens to devour Our Heroes, however the toys almost consumed by mechanized flame was already done in Toy Story 3. The UglyDolls ping–ponging between emotional extremes feels very much like Minions. When the town realizes that they are ugly rejects they go into a dark depression which is funny but, again, there’s a similar scene in Minions too.
The writing has some laughs but nowhere near as consistently hilarious as LEGO Movies have been. Still some gags to land, Moxie happily trying to crawl up the chute and not going anywhere is a funny visual gag also a funny bit is one of the UglyDolls gets all disoriented and freaked out by the sameness of the Perfection housing. An incredibly dumb line that gets a huge laugh is when Ox says that he loves toys with literal names, saying “Isn’t that right, Gibberish Cat?” as Gibberish Cat responds by rambling nonsensically. If this was a smarter movie they would have added Gibberish Cat to the main roster instead of relegated to throwaway gags.
UglyDolls component pieces are awkwardly cobbled together from better movies. It can’t even coast by on being sweetly charming because it’s too deliberately self-aware. One can’t hate UglyDolls but it’s very easy to be underwhelmed by it.