The warning signs are there.
“Uglydolls” is an animated film from a studio start-up with no history in the medium.
The financing is mostly Chinese, with “The Chinese Amazon.com,” Alibaba, in a lead role. Why does that matter? Who does Hollywood never fail to take to the film production cleaners? “New Money.”
The selling point is the music, tunes by Christopher Lenertz and others, sung by big names like Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, Janelle Monae and Blake Shelton.
So there’s every reason to expect this to suck, completely and utterly. But the tunes become a sort of saving grace, the animation’s not bad and the there’s enough slapstick to keep tiny tykes distracted.
And their parents could use a nap, which this death-itself screenplay delivers for anyone over the age of 10.
It’s about a happy, cardboard box town where discarded toys live and laugh and sing.
But Moxy — yes, a LOT of the names are “literal” and on the nose — longs to fulfill every doll’s destiny, to “get chosen.” Since she’s voiced by Kelly Clarkson, she sings about that longing, to be in “the Big World” where “there’s a child for every doll, and a doll for every child.”
Mayor Ox (Blake Shelton) can’t shake that belief. Pals like Wage (Wanda Sykes), Babo (Gabriel Iglesias), one-eyed Ugly Dog (Pitbull) and Lucky Bat (Leehom Wang) can’t dissuade her from exploring the mysterious “flower” from which new residents of Uglyville arrive.
It’s a garbage chute. She can’t see that, but we can. And when she convinces her pals to see if the Big World is on the other side of it, they tag along.
That’s how they end up at the Institute of Perfection,” where beautiful, cookie-cutter Bratz-styled dolls are lorded over by teen-idolist Lou (Nick Jonas).
Lou preaches “Pretty makes perfect,” and he sings “You’re U.G.L.Y., and that’s the ugly truth” to the new arrivals, among other tunes.
Moxy and her pals have to pass “quality control” and run “The Gauntlet,” run by Lou and his Mean Girls, to acquire “the greatest experience a doll can know,” being loved by a child.
The plush “ugly” dolls are rather formless felt concoctions. The “perfect” dolls has lovely yarn-texture hair and dazzling dance moves.
As I said, the songs here do the heavy lifting (“Spy Kids” creator Robert Rodriguez cooked up the story). We get the longing song, the villain’s obstacle song, the makeover song, the fulfillment finale.
A cute cover? Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True.”
One of the handful of laughs is a concert cliche from the rock Dark Ages. Lou inspires “MARRY me, Lou!” screams from his admirers every time he sings. Save for one, who shouts “Freebird!”
The other “As I said” here is this skews very young. If they’re old enough for school, the kids are old enough to be bored here.
But hey, it’s better than “UglyDolls on Ice” or “Uglyville’s Got No Talent.” Theoretically.
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements and brief action
Cast: The voices of Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, Janelle Monae, Pitbull, Blake Shelton, Gabriel Iglesias, Wanda Sykes, Lizzo and Emma Roberts
Credits:Directed by Kelly Asbury, script by Allison Peck, story by Robert Rodriguez. An STX release.
Running time: 1:27