Ugly toy story’s gentle message of acceptance
Director: Kelly Asbury
Starring: Kelly Clarkson, Pitbull, Nick Jonas
Running time: 87 minutes
Verdict: A soft toy story
This G-rated musical adventure about diversity and inclusion goes down about as easily as a cold glass of lemonade on a hot summer's afternoon, but it might well result in a commensurate sugar crash.
UglyDolls' hot pink, gap-toothed leading lady, Moxy (Kelly Clarkson), hasn't got a clue she's a reject. In her world, creatures come in a huge range of shapes and sizes; extra limbs are common, so are missing body parts. But although Moxy is loved and accepted by her fellow inhabitants in the upcycled town of Uglyville, she has a nagging feeling that she's missed her higher calling - which for a toy means being matched with the right child.
And so, UglyDolls skew-whiff heroine persuades her motley bunch of misfit mates - motor-mouthed UglyDog (Pitbull), world-weary Wage (Wanda Sykes), gentle giant Babo (Gabriel Iglesias) and wannabe wise man Lucky Bat (Wang Leehom) - to travel beyond cardboard mountain. Whereupon they are confronted by The Institute of Perfection, a boot camp for toys in which difference simply isn't tolerated.
The Bratz-like dolls that roll off the assembly line here are judged solely by their symmetry - the smallest downturn of a nose is enough to lead to social ostracism. Holding them ruthlessly to account is the blond-haired, blue-eyed Lou (Nick Jonas), who enjoys the status of a rock God in this searingly superficial world.
Having been raised in a world where diversity is not only accepted but celebrated, Moxy's self-belief runs deep and for a moment it appears as if she might have what it takes to upset this tyrannical world order. But nobody suspects the ugly depths to which Lou is prepared to sink in order to protect his privileged position.
Based on an eccentric range of stuffed toys, UglyDolls uses its naive felt characters and their machine-knitted counterparts to champion a gentle message of tolerance - across race, sexuality and disability - without being overly didactic.
The first animated feature produced by STX's family division is no Toy Story, although it has clearly been influenced by that benchmark Pixar animation, but it's well-pitched towards its intended, early primary school demographic.
Moxy's resilient spirit and positive body image make her a good role model for very young girls - there's a sweet scene, towards the end of the film, in which a child recognises herself in those missing teeth. And while there aren't any earworms on the soundtrack, songs like Unbreakable, Girl In the Mirror, Broken And Beautiful and The Ugly Truthdo the trick just fine.
UglyDolls is now screening.