When I heard about a forthcoming movie called UglyDolls, it sounded right away like an instant flop. Now it's found itself on Blu-Ray during the same "summer" as the quick theatrical release. It turns out UglyDolls have already been around for a few years in the form of toys but I hadn't heard of them before- this movie's premise reminded me quite a bit of the "Island of Misfit Toys" in the "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" special though and figured it had potential.
Robert Rodriguez wrote the story, which I didn't know until the end as there are no opening credits. The setting is an automated toy factory, where toys are scanned on the conveyor belt and any that show imperfections are tossed down a pipe which leads to "Uglyville" in a land outside. The rejected toys have formed their own city here but it seems they didn't get the memo as to why they're there as many of them dream about being taken home by a kid out in the "Big World"- Moxy, voiced by Kelly Clarkson, is so optimistic this will happen that she marks "Today is the day" on her calendar every day, figuring that it'll happen the next day after the day goes by with nothing happening. One day she gets very curious about the pipe the new "Uglies" arrive from, so she convinces a few of her friends to find a way up and into it. They find themselves in the holding area where the toys that pass the quality-scans end up, and are then shuttled to the "Institute of Perfection" where dolls are given a series of basic training before being deemed fully suitable for ownership by a child. This place is led by Lou (Nick Jonas) who is the embodiment of perfect, but is also pretty arrogant and snobbish.
Being a kids' movie, the message here is that everyone is special in their own way and nobody is truly perfect, and that's decent enough. The overall design and animation here are pretty good too, and that works against the main characters as they truly are not very pleasant to look at. They aren't just ugly, they're also quite plain and unfinished- main character Moxy for example is a solid pink and you can't really tell just what she was supposed to be had she come out "the right way." The other "ugly" characters are also solid colors and thus appear quite plain. One of Moxy's friends is "Uglydog" (voiced by Armando Christian Perez AKA "Pitbull") who clearly looks more like a cat than a dog- his real defect is having just one eye. I was surprised by the animation style of this movie however; I've seen a number of low-rent computer animated films that just had the word "cheap" written all over them, but it seems quite a bit of work went into even the plain-looking characters. They have a realistic enough look to them that in some moments they could almost be mistaken for stop-motion figures, and the motion around their mouths when they move is rather complex- the animators didn't just slap a moving mouth on their faces and call it a day. The style of the backgrounds is rather amusing also, with some surfaces having a hand-stitched look while others are made from cardboard. Despite the intentionally ugly characters, this is a rather nice movie to look at.
It's also a musical, with several full-blown numbers with songs written by Christopher Lennertz and Glenn Slater. I love a good musical but the songs here are a mixed bag, some of them quite forgettable but Lou's introductory number is pretty cool as is Clarkson's "All Dolled Up" when the misfits try to make themselves over.
The Blu-Ray's picture is near-reference quality (Universal didn't deem it worthy of a 4K disc), losing a point only because of some slight banding in the few dark scenes. As described above, the clarity really lets you get a good look at this movie's design and its characters almost look like they could have been material stop-motion animated figures rather than computer-generated. Colors are appropriately bright. It's a shame this movie wasn't animated in 3D, as were a few of director Kelly Asbury's previous projects. A standard DVD is also included, which of course is no match for any comparison looking out of focus for the most part.
The Blu-Ray gets a 7.1 sound mix in DTS Master Audio (5.1 Dolby Digital on the DVD), with dialogue panned relative to characters' screen positions and subtle yet effective use of the surround channels. Both discs include a descriptive audio track in 2-channel along with hearing-impaired English and standard format Spanish subtitles.
The main extra here is a sing-along version of the movie, presented as a separate encode on both discs where the lyrics to songs sung onscreen (as opposed to simply serving as backdrops) appear with a bouncing button highlighting the words. The other extras consist of short promo clips that appear to have been made for on-line use, showing the main voice cast goofing around and plugging the movie. There's no insight into any of the actual animation or production design. Three trailers for the movie are also included, and both discs open with trailers for The Biggest Little Farm and Abominable with 30-second spots for A Dog's Journey, The Secret Life of Pets 2 and the direct-to-video "Curious George: Royal Monkey" which despite the hi-def promo looks to be issued only on standard DVD.
This was one of those movies I felt had potential but fell a bit flat in the end. It's very good-looking production-wise for a movie about ugliness, but many of the character designs don't make a lot of sense and there really isn't anything unique or memorable about the dialogue or storyline compared to the more successful recent animated productions. The songs are almost enough to save it, but those are also a bit hit or miss. If the writers truly believe these characters are film-worthy, maybe they'll show up later in something a bit better.