In between the epic blockbuster of Avengers: Endgame and the adorable nostalgia of Detective Pikachu comes UglyDolls. Based on a toy franchise that was popular in the late 2000s, the Ugly Dolls movie arrives ... maybe a little late to the fad. That, coupled with an all-star voice cast, a sparkly pop soundtrack, and the infectiously bright color palette, make it seem all fluffy kids schlock void of substance.
But much like the Ugly Dolls themselves, there’s more to meet the eyes in the Ugly Dolls movie. UglyDolls delivers an all-too-familiar message, but in an earnest way that blindsided this skeptical moviegoer. And possibly more important to skeptical interests, UglyDolls somehow has a more convoluted sense of time and reality than Avengers: Endgame. “But isn’t this a movie geared for 7 year-olds?” I’m glad you asked.
[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for UglyDolls]
Weird stuff first: as trailers for the movie reveal, the Ugly Dolls live in the town of Uglyville, only to stumble upon a town called Perfection where pretty dolls live.
What they don’t reveal is that Uglyville and Perfection are pocket dimensions that live alongside the actual human world (known as the Big World) and that once a toy is bought, they go through a magic tunnel and enter the Big World ... where their consciousness align with their physical form.
But going to the Big World isn’t permanent, apparently, and an Ugly Doll can come back to the pocket dimension of toys any time they want. That’s glossed over, though, and we’re just simply told to believe that our toys head back to toy world when we’re asleep. Think Toy Story, but with the bending of the spacetime continuum.
The movie doesn’t explore this bonkers concept as much as it could, but the moment it does ends up actually being a surprisingly poignant one.
Our plucky, Ugly Doll heroine Moxy heads to the Big World for the first time. She’s hesitant at first; despite the fact that the whole movie was about her proving her worth, it’s understandable to doubt herself. The little girl picks up Moxy and turns her over, studying the toy, before splitting into a grin — and we see she shares the same three-toothed smile that Moxy does.
I shit you not, I cried.
I didn’t have the same reaction to Avengers: Endgame, though I certainly felt compelled to get weepy. But I shed legitimate tears during the final moments of UglyDolls — then had to sit back and question everything I understood about the world. Was it just the fact that movies about toys finding their place in the world really hit me? Am I particularly susceptible to totally average animated movies that have surprisingly emotional punches at the end? Is it merely my low expectations going in that render me blindsided? A mix of all three?
I did, admittedly, go into Endgame a bit cynical, if only because the persistent talk of spoiler paranoia and the clunkiness of Infinity War put me off. While I didn’t weep like some I knew, I cheered and clapped more than I expected, the cynicism slowly melting away. I went into the Ugly Dolls movie with a similar type of skepticism and then ended up faced with the reality: the Ugly Dolls movie is fine.
You get everything you expect: goofy humor for kids, the occasional slightly more adult-level joke, bubblegum pop songs that last a mite too long but won’t get stuck in your head, a typical message of accepting and loving yourself despite your outside appearance, and the cloying feeling that you need to buy an Ugly Doll to give it a loving home. It gives a few chuckles, will keep the little ones entertained, and at the end of the day, delivers the message that it aims to directly as possible
And honestly? There is something low-key revolutionary about the delivery of said message. It’s a very female-led empowerment story that passes the Bechdel test with flying colors and doesn’t have shoehorned romance plot. The movie may be a checklist of kid-geared animation tropes, but hey, maybe part of its overly-saturated sweetness will leave a nice taste in your mouth.
UglyDolls is out in theaters now.