by Hope Madden
We open on what is essentially the Island of Misfit Toys. This is the moment when the adults in the UglyDolls audience need to make a choice: accept these notions stolen from far superior toy-related children’s fare as homages, or bristle at inferior product skating by on copy-catting.
It’s your choice, but your kids will mainly see a perfectly sweet, upbeat and unimaginative tale of an ugly duckling. Even better, an ugly duckling who doesn’t need to become a swan to be happy.
That duck, or that blobby pink thing, is Moxy (voiced by Kelly Clarkson). And she lives happily in Uglyville with other merrily misshapen beasties (Wanda Sykes, Blake Shelton, Pitbull, Leehom Wang, Gabriel Iglesias). But Moxie yearns for more.
On a songtastic adventure to fulfill her dream, Moxy and gang run afoul of the pretty dolls, whose leader, Lou (Nick Jonas) intends to keep them from finding the boy or girl who will love them.
Will that stop Moxy? No! She yearns for her very own Andy.
I feel safe in saying that because there’s no question director Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2) and screenwriter Alison Peck (working with characters created by Su-min Kim and David Horvath) have seen Toy Story.
Man, that was a good movie, eh? The whole series, actually. In fact, there’s one scene in Toy Story 3 that made me cry harder than any scene in any film ever. It obviously made an impact on Asbury and Peck as well, because it is lifted shamelessly for the emotional climax of UglyDolls.
When it’s not distracting you with its borderline plagiarism, UglyDolls is sledgehammering its theme. Janelle Monáe voices Mandy, a pretty doll who might be ugly deep down (a good thing). She helps beat the point home that we do not need to conform to be happy. Which is a great theme, and one that a well-made film (like, say, Shrek) can deliver without losing sight of storytelling.
The big screen leap for these critters amounts to a sweetly mediocre marketing strategy for some unattractive (but lovable!) toys.