UglyDolls

UglyDolls

2019, PG, 87 min. Directed by Kelly Asbury. Voices by Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, Janelle Monáe, Blake Shelton, Pitbull, Wanda Sykes, Gabriel Iglesias, Leehom Wang.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., May 10, 2019

If you’ve seen the trailer for candy-coated animated kids' film UglyDolls and felt a twinge of recognition, it's probably because you were in college a decade ago. The original felt-covered toy line was an underground smash in the early 2000s: Originally created by David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim as a cute little story between them after grad school, the off-shape and lumpen little critters became ubiquitous in comic stores and dorms. So it seems inevitable that it becomes a kiddie-friendly animated song-and-dance feature now those students are starting to become parents.

And this is undoubtedly aimed at those youngest of kids, who are probably barely past chewing on their parents’ threadbare Fea Bea. The story, written by Robert Rodriguez, is removed from the original version of the Uglyverse, where the Uglydolls were all well-meaning, if burdened with some very grownup neuroses. OG fans may be a little surprised that kleptomaniac Ox is now mayor of Uglyville, the home to all the Uglydolls. That’s ugly as in cute, since these ever-friendly monochromatic misshapes all have their differences and strangenesses, but that’s what makes them so adorable and special. That’s still not quite enough for the adorable Moxy (Clarkson), who believes that it’s every toy’s destiny to finally find a kid to make happy. It turns out that her dream may be based in reality, and that the path to some winsome waif’s toy box lies on the other side of a portal in the Institute of Perfection. That’s where all the beautiful toys are, under the benevolent dictatorship of Lou (Jonas). With her big heart and assorted friends (Iglesias voicing lumbering Babo, Wang as the nervous Lucky Bat, Pitbull as the self-assured Uglydog and Sykes as Wage, the original Uglydoll created by Horvath and Kim), she’s sure she’ll get to her new home. However, her newfound friend Mandy (Monáe) knows from bitter experience that not everything in Perfection is really that perfect.

For a protracted toy commercial, UglyDolls is surprisingly charming, not least because it is that rarest of films that is genuinely aimed at small children. Of course, there are the moral qualms about disguising a merchandising reel as a movie; but since just about every film has some kind of merchandising tie-in (The Passion of the Christ crucifixion nail pendants were a real thing), and the “we’re just creating mini-consumers” horse bolted somewhere around the first G.I. Joe cartoon, that sin belongs to a wider conversation. Instead, with its by-the-numbers archetypes and pleasant enough story of learning to be yourself, UglyDolls is likely to be a candy-colored crowd-pleaser for the littlest of littles. There were literal outbursts of tiny hands clapping during the preview screening I attended, and there’s no way to argue with that critical approval from the intended audience.

Yet that same crowd lulled a little outside of the songs, and especially when the action moved from the cardboard and twine joys of Uglyville to the charmless plasticity of Perfection. It’s not surprising, since that’s when this felt most generic – a Gobot to Toy Story’s Transformers – and the script underwent a lot of sweetening after animation finished, with plenty of one-liners and exposition yelled in from just off-camera, almost all of it either unnecessary or just plain flat. If this is setting up the seemingly inevitable TV cartoon spin-off, just leave the Uglydolls at home, where they are most fun and engaging.

Showtimes

Cinemark 20 and XD

N. I-35 & FM 1825, 512/989-8535

Cost for 3-D and XD shows is regular ticket price plus a premium.

Sun., May 26

digital 9:45am

Mon., May 27

digital 9:45am

Tue., May 28

digital 9:45am

Wed., May 29

digital 9:45am

Cinemark Round Rock

4401 N. I-35, Round Rock, 800/326-3264

Cost for 3-D shows is regular ticket price plus a $3.50 premium. Call theatre for complete March 26-28 showtimes.

Sun., May 26

digital 9:10am

Mon., May 27

digital 9:10am

Tue., May 28

digital 12:15

Wed., May 29

digital 12:15

Cinemark Southpark Meadows

9900 S. I-35, 800/326-3264

Cost for 3-D shows is regular ticket price plus a $3.50 premium.

Sun., May 26

digital 10:10am, 12:30

Mon., May 27

digital 10:10am, 12:30

Tue., May 28

digital 10:10am, 12:30

Wed., May 29

digital 10:10am, 12:30

Cinemark Stone Hill Town Center

18820 Hilltop Commercial Dr., 512/251-0938, www.cinemark.com

Sun., May 26

digital 10:20am

Mon., May 27

digital 10:20am

Tue., May 28

digital 12:10

Wed., May 29

digital 12:10

Gateway Theatre

9700 Stonelake, 512/416-5700

Discounts daily before 6pm. Cost for 3-D shows is regular ticket price plus a $3.50 premium.

Sun., May 26

CC/DVS 12:25

Mon., May 27

CC/DVS 12:25

Tue., May 28

CC/DVS 12:25

Wed., May 29

CC/DVS 12:25

Thu., May 30

CC/DVS 12:25

Metropolitan

901 Little Texas, 512/447-0101

Discounts daily before 6pm. Cost for 3-D shows is regular ticket price plus a $3.50 premium.

Sun., May 26

CC/DVS 11:50am, 2:05, 4:20

Mon., May 27

CC/DVS 11:50am, 2:05, 4:20, 6:40, 9:50

Tue., May 28

CC/DVS 11:50am, 2:05, 4:20, 6:40, 9:50

Wed., May 29

CC/DVS 11:50am, 2:05, 4:20, 6:40, 9:50

Thu., May 30

CC/DVS 11:50am, 2:05, 4:20, 6:40, 9:50

Starplex 12 San Marcos

1250 Wonder World Drive, San Marcos, 512/805-8000

Sun., May 26

12:50, 3:20, 5:45

Mon., May 27

12:45, 3:15, 5:45

Tue., May 28

12:45, 3:15, 5:45

Wed., May 29

12:45, 3:15, 5:45

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

UglyDolls, Kelly Asbury

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