Right off the bat I feel like they wrote the songs for this first and then tried to figure out a movie around it, throwing in whatever character they could make work. It’s not actually that far fetched when you consider the cast is made up of mostly singers – Kelly Clarkson, Charlie XCX, Nick Jonas, Even Pitbull is in there hamming it up as Uglydog. The thing is, when I go to a musical (and this is certainly NOT being advertised as a typical Disney style musical. it’s on the poster, but nowhere in the trailers) I expect showtunes (maybe that’s just my twenty years in theatre talking). This is packed with Youtube friendly pop songs, and the various scenes seem like set pieces designed to get us from one song to the next. Even my kids noticed it, and it was their main complaint.
It’s a simple story about your flaws making you beautiful and valuable. Longing for an owner to love, our uglydoll heroine Moxie leaves Uglytown with a group of friends and they spend the film trying to pass Quality Control testing led by a meglomaniac Aryan doll who is determined to keep the uglydolls tucked away out of sight in Uglytown or worse yet – RECYCLED! It’s a safe and typical kids movie storyline that hits all the required beats and that we’ve seen a hundred times before (in this year alone).
What makes this so disappointing is how much this feels like a missed opportunity. I was a young parent when the Uglydolls came out. There was something rebellious and edgy about them. IceBat was my daughters favorite toy before their popularity skyrocked. Even the presidant’s daughters had Uglydolls (for the record, my kids had them first. Barry was obviously copying ME.) This would have been the perfect opportunity to create a subversive comedy – something like the Muppets back in the 80’s. Something edgy and sharp that adults would get, while the kids have fun watching the silly characters. Once in a while we get a post modern gag like the Oliver! homage, but that’s about as close as it gets. Uglydolls is as safe and typical as can be. That’s a shame because Uglydolls aren’t really a thing anymore. Even three years ago, the name alone might have been enough to carry them over the finish line, but in 2019, the brand has kind of run out of gas. Small children may dig it as a one-time afternoon diversion, but this cookie cutter entry into the already oversaturated kids film market does nothing to distinguish itself and likely won’t reignite the popularity of the brand. If anything, it’s the final nail in the coffin.
Uglydolls opens nationwide on May 3rd.
(oh and that “All Dolled Up” number? I already did that YEARS ago!)