UglyDolls

I’ve reviewed movies on various outlets for over 25 years. Over that time, I’ve met hundreds of kids that tell me they want to get into the film industry. When I was at Scripps Ranch High School last week for the Falcon Visual Arts Festival (you can read about that here: https://fox5sandiego.com/2019/04/27/scripps-ranch-2nd-annual-falcon-visual-arts-festival/), I met a guy named Nick who had one of the best short films I’ve seen in some time, and might be the first that I actually think could make it in the film business.  And with all the film festivals and awards voting, I see about 50 shorts a year. I have no doubt that his will be the best I’ve seen this year (you can watch it on the link provided above). When I talked to him about whether he’d like to become a filmmaker, he said in an email, “Pursuing a career in filmmaking is something I’ve always dreamed of. Since I was little, I’ve been infatuated with the filmmaking process, and have always wanted to make movies of my own.” He also said that he’s planning on double-majoring in college in journalism and film, since he’s interested in both fields. Upon hearing that, I figured there was no better way to combine both than to have him write a movie review. That covers both of his loves. The fact that it saved me the two hours of watching a movie, and another hour writing a review, did not play into that decision. Honest, it didn’t ;-)

Without further ado, here’s his review.

UglyDolls (2019) Review by Nick Cassol

It has been said that it’s not the idea that counts, but the execution — and, if that’s the case, then UglyDolls, the new animated film from director Kelly Asbury (Gnomeo and Juliet, Shrek 2), is in real trouble, because it fails spectacularly on both fronts.

The basic premise is simple enough, and something that’s become quite prevalent in animated features these days: a group of outcasts, exiled for not conforming to societal norms, learn, by the end, that it is their uniqueness that makes them special. This time around, external beauty is the deciding factor, as the Ugly Dolls, who live in Uglyville, are assured that they will never make it in the “Big World” or be played with by a child, as they are simply too ugly to love.

I must confess, however, that there’s something to be said for the evil conformist society’s standpoint this time around — it’s not just the dolls that are ugly, it’s the characters, sets, world, and animation style in general. The animation is not even remotely interesting to look at, filled with unappealing designs and an off-putting mishmash of colors, swashed together without even so much as a hint of a coherent color palette. In fact, during most of the film’s many, many musical sequences, the background animation is removed completely, replaced only by some banal design scheme, or, in some cases, just a single, flat color. The film is, indeed, ugly, and if that’s what the filmmakers were going for, I must applaud their efforts.

The plot doesn’t fare much better. Led by the spritely Moxy (Kelly Clarkson), a ragtag group of misfits from Uglyville — which is, itself, already a town of outcasts — decide to venture off to the “Big World,” where they can finally be played with by a child. The way that the adventure unfolds is painfully contrived, executed without any degree of nuance or authenticity beyond lazily going through the motions of the barebones plot, and it only gets worse once the dolls happen upon the Institute of Perfection. It is here where all of the perfect dolls are all judged on their perfectness by the viciously judgmental and egotistical Lou (Nick Jonas), the heartthrob — and tyrannical dictator — of the community. Lou is the very definition of perfection, sporting a faultlessly trimmed lounge suit, unblemished fabric-skin, and slicked back string-hair — not a single yarn is out of place. If the Ugly Dolls have any hope of making it out in the Big World, they must partake in a series of tests set up by Lou, who inexplicably allows them to participate in spite of the fact that, by his own standards, they should not be allowed to compete. I’m in no place to offer Lou any dictatorial advice, but it seems like he could simply give the Ugly Dolls the boot without facing too much opposition. I fear I either don’t understand the complex political system these dolls have set up, or it’s simply another contrived plot point that awkwardly forces the narrative along. As incoherent and dispensable as the plot is, it’s made worse by the ridiculous pacing, where profound character arcs magically transpire over the course of a song. The film’s poor pacing becomes no clearer than in the third act, where none of the twists or themes it attempts to deliver on feel significant or impactful in any way — characters cry, but their emotions feel as fabricated as the dolls themselves. It is also in the final act where the film’s banality is especially evident; in fact, it seems at times that the filmmakers are in competition to see just how many Pixar movies they can directly rip off — a little Toy Story 3 here, a little Cars there, a touch of Monsters, Inc. over here, and plenty of the original Toy Story all around for good measure.

If it seems I’m being a tad harsh, it’s only because of how much potential there is for this medium. Animation can be more artistic and more creative than any other type of filmmaking – just look at anything by the likes of Pixar or Studio Ghibli – but, after seeing UglyDolls, I am convinced that it is among the most unartistic and uncreative films of the year. The excuse, of course, is that this is only a kids’ movie, and doesn’t deserve such severe criticism, but the fact that this is targeted towards kids only makes it all the more appalling and egregious. Children need to be exposed to true creativity if they ever hope to exhibit any of their own, and, after sitting through an hour and a half of this mind-numbing nonsense, I fear that any child would feel as predisposed to conformity as the dolls at the Institute of Perfection.

Towards the end of the film, one of the dolls, Wage (Wanda Sykes), tries to recall the duration of their journey — “How long did it take?” she asks to no one in particular.

“A day? A month? Eighty-three minutes?”

It’s one of the film’s many cutesy fourth-wall breaks, and if the movie is, indeed, 83 minutes, I’ll take her word for it — but I think I’d probably go with one of her earlier estimates. Movies that do nothing but flash boring visuals and annoying songs at you for 83 minutes tend to feel long — as my friend Max Messmer (who attended the screening with me) opined afterwards, “That was about as exciting as staring at cardboard for an hour and a half.”

I don’t disagree.

After the film ended, I heard a mother ask her daughter, “So, did you like the movie?,” to which the girl squarely replied: “No.”

Hearing that gave me hope for the future of humanity. The previous 83 minutes of my life had not.

1 out of 5 stars

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