WHY IS THIS PG? It's completely harmless! It actually might be the most harmless kids movie of all time. Does G no longer exist? If I had to posit a quintessential film to represent the G-rating, it would be this! There is a mildly scary scene? Seriously. This is mind-boggling. I read the IMDB parents guide and there's no objectionable content. It's PG, but it should be G.
DIRECTOR: Kelly Asbury
I don't get people. I really don't. There are so many complaints about Hollywood not having a backbone and that kids movies don't have morals anymore. I just tried to figure out why UglyDolls has a PG rating. There's nothing objectionable in the movie. It's as innocent of a kids movie that I could have seen. But then I'm reading all this CommonSense media comments by parents and they are all taken aback by all of the terrible stuff for kids. All these reviews say that the movie celebrates bullying and that five year olds are leaving crying. THE MOVIE IS ABOUT HOW TERRIBLE BULLYING IS! That's the message. If your kid is bullied or is a bully, this movie is talking about the evils of bullying. How can you miss that? It's the most on the surface moral.
...and this was the moment that I realized I was screaming at the Internet for being the Internet.
I'm going to breathe out. I wrote a Catholic News Agency article about this. I'll try to put it on the front page, to make life a little easier. There were some small shifts in my review by my editor, but I can stand by most of what is written there. Again, my Catholic News Agency stuff is thought out and corrected. This blog tends to be stream of consciousness stuff. UglyDolls is kind of a bad movie that I want every family to see. I was being really nice in the other article because I really want this movie to succeed. I don't know what it is. I've seen other movies with messages that rock. But UglyDolls is a rough movie with a lot of heart. It feels like a lot of studio intervention is happening here. When I saw the trailer for this film, the movie really promoted how many pop singers were voicing characters. I know, it's the studio's job to promote the living daylights out of their content. I totally get it. STX Films is never going to have the marketing power of a Disney or even a Dreamworks, so they can't really rely on how the movie looks by itself. Honestly, I watched the trailer and thought that it looked a little chincy. It didn't look like a lot of the stuff that people want me to watch. It didn't look like Christian cinema. But it doesn't exactly look like Toy Story or Shrek either. It looks...honestly, generic. The character designs, I guess outside of the UglyDolls themselves, are so boring. It looks absolutely rough. Ask someone to design a robot version of something. That's what it looks like in UglyDolls. For those not in the know, UglyDolls are a toy. That's a thing that you can buy right now. This is a movie that is based after a line of toys and that's a big red flag for me. So you take a line of toys and make the movie look pretty standard and boring, I'm not going to be excited to see it. Then you take people who aren't really actors, but pop singers and I guarantee the performances are going to be less than perfect. That's all true in the case of UglyDolls.
But the movie completely nails its core message! That shouldn't happen. A bad movie shouldn't be able to nail the thing that makes it work. Often, with all of these rough edges around it, a movie will do anything to course correct. If I had to really play devil's advocate, I suppose the movie looks fine enough. It doesn't look distractingly bad. But it doesn't look unique either. The LEGO Movie people were in the same boat in terms of making a movie based after a line of toys. They made every detail in that movie perfect so there would be no way to complain about it too much. The commercialism thing is a thorn in my craw when I go to see something. Watching CastAway was one of the most frustrating film experiences of my life because so much was given to FedEx for that movie. The LEGO Movie overcompensated and it worked. The worst thing that people could say was "I watched a two hour movie about a toy brand, but it looked amazing and it was hilarious." UglyDolls doesn't really have that advantage. Instead, the movie shows its flaws everywhere, appropriately enough. But somehow, SOMEHOW, it managed to make characters that were sympathetic and nailed its message. I think that's why I got so mad about the comments from CommonSense media. There was this Herculean task that shouldn't have been able to work and it worked. Man, I was moved by those little dolls at the end. There were these moments that were so ham-fisted about selling its message, but I didn't even care. The insane part is that I've seen that story before. It's a pretty common story. But the reason that it mostly works in UglyDolls is that they committed to it wholeheartally. Holy moley, I just realized that UglyDolls is an inverse Monsters University. Oh no! I mean, I knew that a lot of these bits were pretty generic. We've seen these themes before. But now that I know that the format is just Monsters University with a more wholesome tone, that kind of bums me out.
Going back to CommonSense media commenters (because I can't get it out of my head), why do people want to hate on something so quickly? Okay, I have to back that up because I wasn't the most excited to see UglyDolls. Also, I've spent the majority of the week hate-watching the Sonic the Hedgehog trailer. (It's so bad, guys. It's so bad.) I don't think I've watched a movie that really tried to be so good at all times. From moment one of the film, we get that the protagonists are meant to be allegories for real people. The closing credits of the film reinforce that, but people in reality are imperfect. Sometimes, my wife will ask me if I think an actor's attractive. I tend to respond "yes" or "no." But more commonly, I might say that they are "real world attractive, not celebrity attractive." I think I know too many people who like really out-of-this-world pretty people. If characters and actors are supposed to represent reality, if they are meant to be avatars for us, why does no one actually look like us? It tends to be the really insane method actors who look like they could be normal. This also ties into gender norms and expectations, so I won't go that deep into it. But this movie instantly bonds Moxy to us at the protagonist. There's this common theme to stories about beauty being on the inside. The design of Moxy, admittedly a character that existed before this movie, shows this without ever actually having to say it. Moxy, as an UglyDoll, has that adorkable quality that is really hard to nail down. If anything, this movie is about the beauty of confidence. Moxy never really thinks of herself as ugly. She simply has a goal that she pursues throughout. Looks and acceptance never really come into play when she's discussing going to the real world. She has a talent and that's about it. If we're looking at how toxic bullying is, it is only once the perfect people come in that Moxy begins losing her confidence. The world actually blackens, which is a nice visual, even if it doesn't make a lick of practical sense. Imagine that I work for the company that makes UglyDolls. I have these characters that all have personality. These characters are ugly, but they're also fun and bright. Then we have all of these toys that are as standardized as possible. There is a sense of irony when the movie pushes the toys from the town of Perfection as the thing that kids want. I don't want my kids to have Barbies. I find them to be vapid. I know that I'm talking from an ignorant perspective, but the movie is stressing the beauty of a personality. Moxy is a character that instantly bonds with us, despite the fact that Kelly Clarkston's performance is blah. (All of the performances are blah. Even Rob Riggle's.) Watching a movie where these characters are attacked for not being boring is bizarre.
Part of this can be chalked up to the art direction. I keep coming back to this, but I think the team does the movie a disservice by not being creative with any other element except for the UglyDolls themselves. The way I understand it, the characters have been around in toy form. I've never owned an UglyDolls. An ex-girlfriend made me her own UglyDoll decades ago. But when you make the dolls of Perfection that forgettable, it's both perfect and terrible. We have to believe that kids would want the toys like Lou. That is fundamental to the story. I know, it's the message. I'M WRITING IN CIRCLES AND HATE MYSELF! Listen, we're supposed to care about the nice toys. We're supposed to get that those characters matter. But the UglyDolls are the only characters that have personality. Why are the villains that two-dimensional? The end of the film implies that we should care about all of the toys. But that is never sold throughout. So what we have is a complete unbalanced film. We have the protagonists and the heroic characters have all of this development and things to care about and the villains of the piece are completely vapid. Lou is the antagonist. He has all of these backstories, but they never really feel tied to him as a character. He's kind of a regressive villain archetype. He really hates to hate. I know, the movie gives a background. But he's super cackley about the whole thing. He's arch villaining the entire time and that doesn't make him interesting. Instead, there's nothing to really like or hate. He's just a type. I need more than a type. There's this big revelatory moment that is supposed to make us gasp or something. I don't get that. His entire character is more like a twist. It was supposed to be this big moment. But the story is an allegory for the misshapen and the bullied. In the CNA article, I implied that there's almost pro-life attitude toward the unwanted that I really enjoyed. But Lou is not a one for one character. He's a bully. He should represent the fashionista. He should represent the bully that tortures kids and keeps getting what he wants. There's this opportunity to examine what makes a bully a bully and the movie kind of ducks it. Instead, the movie keeps the character in universe. By making him the result of a toy company, there's never that moment where the character has a fickle reason for acting the way he does. It actually tries to generate an odd sympathy that the character really doesn't deserve. He's a bad person. I want to examine what makes him a bad person. Sometimes people are just the absolute worst and Lou kind of gets the cinematic answer to the entire scenario. It's just cheap.
But at its core, UglyDolls is about how people are physically not perfect, but beautiful. I danced around it in my CNA article, but the UglyDolls are thrown away. They are thrown away people. I think of those kids with Down Syndrome and I don't want to talk about how society views them as lesser. I think of my friends who adopted kids with Down Syndrome and how much joy that their kids brings them. The UglyDolls aren't always easy to live with. They march to their own beat. They remind us of our imperfection. Do I wish the movie was better? Yeah. I wish we could have a movie like this that could knock it out of the park. But UglyDolls is good enough. In fact, if the movie is about characters that are good enough that they are special, I suppose the movie about those kind of characters are appropriate. That's a nice sentiment and all, but it's not a great movie. It just does some things really, really well.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.