UglyDolls Sing-Along Edition Blu-ray Review: A Kids Movie, Through and Through

There are two kinds of movies for children, as I see it. First, there are ones with subtlety and nuance in their messaging and with material thrown in to offer something for the grown-ups along for the ride. In this category, I think of the Muppets and Pixar, and to a slightly lesser degree, Disney (there really is nothing for anyone by the third or fourth chapter of an existing franchise being milked for all it’s worth). Then we have the movies that are purely for kids in the simplest sense — the music is less complex and easier to follow, the messaging is very (sometimes too overtly) on the nose, and there are few, if any, surprises. UglyDolls falls pretty firmly in the latter category, which isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just different, and I think it helps to know what you’re getting into when you spin up the disc.

UglyDolls is a story about defective toys — all of whom seem to be plushies, perhaps in an attempt to simplify the diversity of characters — living out their days in a secluded paradise they’ve built for themselves. Some, like the main character Moxy (Kelly Clarkson), still believe that there is a child out there waiting to love them, while others believe that they are too misshapen or broken to be loved by anyone. Toy Story 4 tackled a similar theme with newcomer Forky, a toy made out of craft scraps that were plucked out of the trash, and he comes to life with a sense of enthusiastic worthlessness, only to have the other characters help him find his value and purpose. Moxy, on the other hand, is full of hope and purpose and relentless optimism. Every day on her calendar is listed as “Today’s the Day” she’ll get chosen by a child and then gets crossed off when it’s not. She’s been this way for a very long time and refuses to give up. That tenacity in and of itself is an admirable quality, despite the apparent futility of it all.

She eventually ventures out to try to find her place in the world, only to run into Lou (Nick Jonas) who is considered by many to be the perfect toy because he is attractive and well liked, and his judgment determines the worth of all the other toys who seek his approval to pass through the portal to find the child who will love them. Lou is smug and irritating, and that’s the point, and he’s especially harsh to Moxy and her pals who have decided that they are just as good as everyone else and deserve a shot at passing through the portal. They are berated and hazed during this stretch of the movie, and one of the “cool” dolls Mandy (Janelle Monáe) sides with them when the secret of her own imperfections starts to show through. Through various trials and tribulations, the dolls strive to prove their worth, some unpleasant truths and obstacles emerge, and there is a significant musical number about every three minutes — again, with simpler themes and tunes designed to appeal to the younger set, which left me yearning for the infectious rhythms of something like Moana. It also makes sense that there is a ton of musical performances in this film since many of the voice actors are professional singers and performers in their own right. While they were well performed, the songs didn’t grab me or stick with me the way some other kids films’ tracks have.

One of the problems I encountered with the last half of the movie is that, to me, it seemed that the overall message was “No matter who you are, what your talent is, or how good you are, you can still only succeed if and when terrible people approve of you.” Lou is the ultimate guardian of the portal, and even when his true nature is revealed and his followers start to turn against him, his approval still trumps just about everything else. Eventually, control of the portal is wrested away from him, but UglyDolls spends a considerable amount of time showing the underdogs trying to win the approval of the attractive popular boy rather than going their own way and finding a path around him to do things their own way, or leverage their own talents.

I watched this with my five-year-old, and she loved it, so clearly my aging dad brain is probably reading too much into it. However, for what it’s worth, she has not asked to watch it again since that first viewing, and that’s not like her. Whether it’s immediately after or the following day, she typically asks to see movies again and again, so make of that what you will. Maybe tomorrow is the day she will ask for another go at it — there’s some irony that the UglyDolls movie may have become the UglyDoll of this preschooler’s film collection.

The extras on the Blu-ray are a little sparse, basically amounting to a few behind-the-scenes clips totaling about five minutes, and they can be played individually or as one longer sequence. We watched the film on a 4K 120Hz TV and it certainly looks and sounds great. The Sing-Along Edition of the film adds lyrics and a bouncing karaoke ball to help kids follow along and sing the many songs when they appear in the film.

If you want something light and bright and colorful that will entertain the kids again and again, UglyDolls will likely get the job done, and the themes are good, if a little obvious and lacking any sort of nuance. If you want something that you’ll really enjoy watching repeatedly with the younger set, this one might wear thin more quickly than some other popular options.

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Mark Buckingham

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