Geek is chic, nerdy is in, and counterculture has somehow morphed into mainstream, but nothing says “let your freak flag fly” more than STX Entertainment’s newly released UglyDolls movie, directed by Kelly Asbury. (Like, literally: it’s in a super catchy song.)
If you’re looking for something that reinvents the feel-good-animated-kids-movie wheel, UglyDolls isn’t it. And it doesn’t try to be. What it does do — and quite well, in my humble, B-movie-loving opinion — is shine a light on some of the issues that kids face, from bullying and weight to the pressure to be perfect and the desire to just fit in and be accepted. It is in turns silly and whimsical and ridiculously over the top, and other times a bit darker than a PG-rated movie should be. (Mild spoiler alert: Is it attempted suicide if it’s a stuffed, felt doll?! Asking for a friend. …)
The movie begins in UglyVille, a fab felt world full of giant, misshapen homes in all the colors you can imagine. Throw in some contrasting buttons, baubles, threads, and more, and it’s easy to see why the UglyDolls think it just “couldn’t get better.” My DIY-obsessed heart is inclined to agree, too. Moxy (Kelly Clarkson) is the star of the show, and she’s never far from her ragtag crew of fellow Uglies: Lucky Bat (Wang Leehom), Babo (Gabriel Iglesias), Wage (Wanda Sykes), and Uglydog (Pitbull). Mayor Ox (Blake Shelton) is a bit of a naysayer initially, but he too joins the crew later on in the flick.
Moxy is plump and pink and proud of it all. She sings a few lines about it in the first few minutes of the film; it’s fast and fun, but it sets a tone early on that being different is in and deserves celebration:
Hello gorgeous, let’s check out how you look today/Short and stubby, and, my gosh, look how much you weigh/ You’re pinkish red, got this thing on your head, and woah/ Girl, you couldn’t look better
Moxy loves her fellow Uglies and living in UglyVille, but she is certain that she’s destined for something more than just singing happy songs all day — something great: to be matched with her very own kid in the great Big World. But first, she and her BFFs (who tag along reluctantly) have to get past some impossible standards and a big, doll-faced bully named Lou (Nick Jonas). The UglyDolls find themselves on an adventure they weren’t quite prepared for, but they give it their all anyway, using charm, determination, and allll the catchy tunes to try to beat Lou and make it to the Big World.
Along the way, the UglyDolls get a little help from a visually challenged doll named Mandy (Janelle Monaé) even as a trio of mean girls — Tuesday (Bebe Rexha), Kitty (Charli XCX), and Lydia (Lizzo) — does everything possible to break the Uglies’ spirits and keep them from making it to the Big World.
Clarkson’s rather famous comfort in her own skin shines through Moxy, and the comedic talents of Iglesias, Sykes, and Pitbull (who knew?!?) help bring some levity to the heavier moments. Plus, they’re #SquadGoals. If you don’t love these dolls, you’re legit dead inside. The film may be wacky and a bit repetitive (I’d say it doesn’t need to be an hour and a half but then I remember the songs so fiiiiine), but it hits you right in the feels and makes it clear throughout that pretty does not equal perfect; individuality, messiness, compassion, and determination can get you close, but nobody is perfect, and that’s just fine. It’s a serious, important message that kids hear parroted from the authority figures in their lives, and the movie really reinforces it and drives it home.
At its core, UglyDolls is an electric reminder that “our flaws make us who we are,” friendship will get you out of the toughest of spots, and there’s nothing wrong with waving your freak flag high in the great blue sky.
Photos: STX Entertainment