UglyDolls (2 stars)


EIFF 2019: Pop stars aplenty lend their voices to an imperfect animation

'Perfection can stuff it,' runs the tagline for UglyDolls, the latest animated feature seemingly designed to shift merchandise. The Uglydoll plush toy brand has been around since 2001, and perhaps the failure of UglyDolls at the US box office suggests an outbreak of taste; with a slew of music stars phoning in their contributions, the quest for cinematic perfection is too easily cast aside.

Uglyville is a dumping ground for dolls not deemed good-looking enough to be played with, although the residents are mostly happy. But Moxy (Kelly Clarkson) and her sock-puppet friends dream of a better life and travel hopefully to the Institute of Perfection, where too-cool-for-school Lou (Nick Jonas) trains dolls to go through the Gauntlet – a house with various tests, including robotic dogs and babies, to see if the dolls are ready for the Big World.

UglyDolls offers up commercial elements which don't quite deliver. Kids might be lured in to hear pop idols like Clarkson and Jonas, but Pitbull, Lizzo and Charli XCX only add their voices, without contributing tracks. The songs, mostly written by Christopher Lennertz and Glenn Slater, are decent enough, with a Pentatonix cover of Hall & Oates' perennial movie anthem 'You Make My Dreams' thrown into the mix. There's also a positive message about being yourself and not judging by appearances, but it's not easy to discern above the din; the initial story outline by Robert Rodriguez certainly seems to have had its heart in the right place.

Director Kelly Asbury's previous two films, Gnomeo & Juliet and Smurfs: The Lost Village, were serviceable efforts rather than firm favourites (though he does have Shrek 2 to his name), and unfortunately his latest lags behind the very best in family fare. A first venture into animation by STX Entertainment, UglyDolls strives too hard to be cute, and the result can sometimes be a strain to watch.

Screening on Sun 23 Jun as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2019. General release from Fri 16 Aug.


  • 2 stars
  • 2019
  • China / Canada / US
  • 1h 27min
  • Directed by: Kelly Asbury
  • Cast: Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, Janelle Monáe

Moxy (Clarkson) is a sock puppet who lives in Uglyville, who travels to the Institute of Perfection to be trained by Lou (Jonas) for introduction to the real world. With a cast largely of music stars phoning in their voice performances, it tries too hard to be cute and the result is a strain.