Released: 19th September
Seen: 30th September
In 1986, the British TV station ITV began airing a cartoon called The Raggy Dolls. For 9 seasons, children were shown the adventures of Sad Sack, Dotty, Hi-Fi, Lucy, Back-To-Front, Claude, and Princess. For almost a decade people would tune in to watch as the gaggle of rejected toys with various malfunctions went on adventures together and taught the audience to treat those who are different with kindness. It also had the absolute best theme tune of any 80s cartoon (I WILL fight you on this) that was sung by Neil Innes (of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band) and is a glorious ode to treating people well no matter their differences. It’s legitimately one of the sweetest little cartoons that I remember watching as a kid and a must watch for anyone who wants to get their kids to learn the lesson that people who look different are just as valuable as everyone else… it’s certainly better than this movie was, because I remember the music from Raggy Dolls but good luck with remembering anything from Uglydolls… which I will now force myself to remember in order to explain why it’s forgettable.
Uglydolls takes place in Uglyville where the commercially-acceptable-level-of-ugly dolls spend their day singing the traditional “Morning in the ‘burbs” musical numbers and all of them get along perfectly without any idea that being ugly is anything other than amazing. Of course there’s always one person in these little communities who wants something more than what they have and this movie has Moxy (Kelly Clarkson), a bright pink thingamajig who dreams of being able to go to the Big World to find the person who wants a doll like her. Naturally she decides to find her way out of Uglyville via a pipe that’s always been there, but which no one ever checked out. So she drags along a few friends, Uglydog (Pitbull), Lucky Bat (Leehom Wang), Wage (Wanda Sykes) and Babo (Gabriel Inglesias) to help her. When they get through the tunnel they happen upon the Institute of Perfection where a bunch of generic looking dolls are taught how to handle the big world under the tutelage of the obviously evil Lou (Nick Jonas) who is also totally down to do some eugenics on the UglyDolls. And so it goes on, the dolls must prove their worth and learn that the things that make them different also make them lovable… please make sure to seal your barf bag tightly and place it carefully in the bin, because that amount of overly sweet bullshit is off the charts here.
Here’s where I’m going to actually be shocking and state that I do not hate this film. I don’t, I really thought I would because everything about it looked bland and generic as hell (and it is, oh god how generic this thing is) but there is some charm here. You can tell they meant well by trying to do a story about an underclass fighting to be seen as equal to the prettier people, it’s a bigotry allegory that’s so obvious that it should work a lot better than it does… but it just never quite gets there. They certainly have their moments of doing something kind of clever, for example it’s not exactly a coincidence that the villain of this movie is a blonde-haired blue-eyed white male. Yes, they made the villain a Hitler Youth Doll and they never do anything with it. They could’ve done something that might’ve actually fit in with the current era and made a point about charismatic leaders who charm past criticisms of being… you know, kind of into eugenics. Not even being a little over the top on that, he explicitly states that he wants to ‘recycle’ all the ugly dolls in order to make them perfect. It would be amazing if they just kept that going the entire time… and then they do the whole “Actually, I was evil because I can never leave here” thing and suddenly it stops being interesting.
This is a thing that happens a lot, interesting concepts get dropped in favor of nothing. It should be interesting that the Uglydolls keep trying to complete their training but mess up, but they drop that after one training montage that only shows the dolls having to try and learn one task… out of a mentioned twelve. We can’t show them having to learn how to avoid dogs or babies or things that might eventually come up in the finale? No, no we just show them avoiding getting messy (a thing that NEVER matters during the end gauntlet, FYI) and that’s the end of it. Also, the montage of them learning is set to the only cover song in the entire soundtrack which is the weirdest choice that you could make.
Speaking of the soundtrack, the music from this is very hit and miss. For starters, the first several songs are almost immediately followed by a darker reprise of the same song which is very confusing and just a bad arrangement in general. The songs themselves aren’t exactly catchy either, they’re bland though passable, but you won’t be rushing to find a favourite song on this soundtrack. They’re all well performed because this movie decided to hire mostly singers to handle the acting, but they aren’t memorable. Even the villain song, AKA the song that most people love in every animated movie, isn’t that good. It’s also kind of funny that this movie hired so many singers, and maybe uses 3 of them. Kelly Clarkson obviously gets the big songs, Nick Jonas handles the villain song and Janelle Monae gets a few as well but the rest? Basically joining in on the background numbers. Now, in the case of people like Pitbull I’m OK with this because I could really go without another song by him, but they had Blake Shelton who maybe gets a verse of one group number and Ice-T who doesn’t get to do anything. Hell, you had a trio of spy girls played by Bebe Rexha, Charli XCX and Lizzo and you can’t work out a girl group number for them? The entire soundtrack is forgettable, though don’t be shocked when one of the songs (my money’s on Unbreakable) is brought up around awards season as the generic animated song that they want to try and empower the kids… it won’t win, but it’ll probably be brought up as though we’re meant to care.
We won’t though, there’s nothing here to really care about. Their intentions were good, but the execution is just generic with nothing special to say about it. It’s not painfully bad, but it’s not good either. It’s just there. If your kids want to go see it then let them, but don’t push them towards it. It’s not one to avoid, heck the kids might even get a kick out of it but it’s not worth rushing out for… which no one did because this film flopped already. I’m reviewing this five months after its release in America because for some reason they still do stupid release schedules like this while also wondering why there’s piracy. Anyway, if you want to teach your kids the same lesson that this movie tries to teach them… well, the opening verse of the Raggy Dolls theme does the job nicely.
It’s not much of a life when you’re just a pretty face
Just to be whoever you are is no disgrace
Don’t be scared if you don’t fit in
Look who’s in the reject bin