I had never heard of UglyDolls before they made a movie about them, but it’s clear they’re a franchise. UglyDolls is essentially Toy Story without Andy. It’s a world of dolls before they even get to children.
The factory intercepts any doll that doesn’t fit the model and sends it to Uglyville. Moxy (Kelly Clarkson) dreams of going to the Big World to be a child’s toy. You know, just like every animated movie protagonist doesn’t conform to their society and wants to venture out.
Moxy and her friends end up in Perfection where Lou (Nick Jonas) teaches perfect dolls how to be perfect for their future children. This is a really good message for children. Don’t let toy Hitler create his master race of perfect dolls. Besides the Nazi parallels, there’s also the valid message that being “perfect” makes Lou so fragile and insecure to maintain it, who needs that?
This is actually the first time Moxy has been told she’s ugly, even though she comes from Uglyville. Imagine living without that concept. UglyDolls doesn’t quite deal with that “seeing the puppet masters” paradigm shift. In fact, we never learn who the overload of this whole factory/Perfection system is but Moxy’s unflappable optimism has a positive impact on the people of Perfection.
Everyone who worships Lou are either manipulators themselves, or they’re being abused by manipulators like Lou. Putting on a happy face doesn’t make you perfect. It makes you as self-loathing as Lou, so teaching kids not to be what other people want them to be is never a bad message. Unless grown-ups want you to be a kid who chews with your damn mouth closed. You absolutely have to obey that.
Lou’s training deals with a little bit of the territory Toy Story 2 got into. Not nearly as profound, but he’s training dolls for playing with messy kids, lest they become imperfect. But the nature of playing is imperfect. The point isn’t to remain a perfect collectible unopened in the box. It’s to get messed up by a loving child. UglyDolls also cribs bits from Toy Story 3 and Monsters, Inc..
What’s at stake is a little flimsy. They either make it to the Big World or get banished back to Uglyville, or worse recycled completely. Okay, but grown-ups throw out toys in the Big World too so why does recycling even exist? Just let it all go through and let the Big World sort it out.
The music is rather unmemorable. You could tell me these are the songs from Trolls and I’d believe you. There are a few basic puns about Uglyville modeling the real world but it’s not too overloaded with pop culture references for parents, although there are some big words. Explain to your kids what a sycophant is. It’s good they learn this now. And it’s a diverse cast of voices that includes Janelle Monae, Gabriel Iglesias, Wanda Sykes and Wang Leehom so that’s a positive too.
UglyDolls is cute and I like what it’s saying about not conforming and questioning the wisdom of authority figures. Those are fairly common themes in family films, but they work and those dolls are adorable.