Author: Rachel Richter
Growing up, I ran the gamut of being made fun of because I was too tall, I was overweight, I had too much hair, I was too UGLY. Lessons of empathy, kindness, and respect were few and far between, but as an adult I’ve learned that I’m perfect the way that I am and the parts of me that I was picked on for, are the parts of me that I love about myself.
Released in 2019 and directed by Kelly Asbury, UGLYDOLLS features an all-star cast including Kelly Clarkson, Pitbull, Blake Shelton, Nick Jonas, Lizzo, Gabriel Iglesias, and Wanda Sykes. The movie aims to teach kids the importance of self-acceptance, kindness over conventional beauty, and the differences in everyone that make us all unique and special. While these themes are intertwined throughout the film, ultimately this film fails to live up to its promise and instead delivers a shallow and clichéd narrative that has been repeated time and time again.
Two glaring issues with this movie is the superficial treatment of beauty standards and the lack of character development. In the movie, our main protagonist Moxie, is followed by her friends through a tunnel that leads them to the Institute of Perfection; a place where dolls are trained to be perfect before they are sent to their human owners. While Moxie and her friends are visiting the Institute, they meet Lou, a charismatic doll who is idolized by other dolls because he is the epitome of perfection. While Lou appears friendly at first, he secretly harbors resentment towards the UglyDolls and fears that he will lose his status if imperfect dolls are accepted. This pursuit of perfection is never further examined, and the storyline could have delved deeper into how damaging the effects of these standards are; the film oversimplified its message and missed the opportunity to ignite a meaningful conversation and provide a substantial critique of beauty standards. Children might find themselves asking “Why are the dolls ugly?” because they are accustomed to associating beauty with conventional or idealized features.
When it comes to a good movie, audiences enjoy character development. A good storyline not only focuses on the main character, but also highlights and develops the story arcs of the supporting characters. Young children can be more forgiving when it comes to storytelling or character development, as they might be captivated by the colorful visuals, catchy songs, and overall entertaining nature of the film. Having a movie with a well-rounded cast of characters also tends to do better at the box office, as well as provide greater merchandising opportunities. It goes to say that UglyDolls did not provide that. While the film has a wonderful ensemble cast, their characters remain one-dimensional, and they fail to leave a lasting impression. Characters including Wage, Babo, and Lucky Bat are undeveloped and serve as sidekicks without distinct personalities or individual story arcs. By failing to invest in character development, UglyDolls also missed the chance to create memorable, creative characters that could have resonated with its young audience. At its conclusion UglyDolls does not provide a launchpad for a successful sequel or any spin-off media.
Despite its promising premise, UglyDolls falls short in its messaging. While the intention to deliver a message of self-acceptance and empowerment is commendable, the film fails to provide depth and complexity that is necessary to truly resonate with its audience. With a predictable plot line, underdeveloped characters, lackluster musical numbers, and its superficial treatment towards beauty standards, UglyDolls is truly a forgettable movie. The art of creating a children’s animated film with a deeply personal message should be left to the professionals at Pixar. This pale imitation of that art is ultimately doomed to the long list of forgettable children’s films. Its mediocre attempt at creating an impactful animated film lacks the substance and creativity that it needed to leave a lasting impression.