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MOVIE REVIEW

UglyDolls

also known as “Ugly Dolls, “Aguridoru,” “Altamente Imperfeitos,” “Hoi Thu Bong Ngo Nghinh,” “Neglitas lellites,” “Paskudy. UglyDolls,” “Ružnjići,” “Ugly Dolls: Extraordinariamente feos,” See more »
MPAA Rating: PG-Rating (MPAA) for thematic elements and brief action.

Reviewed by: Ruth Eshuis
CONTRIBUTOR

Very Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
• Young-Adults • Teens —although marketed to kids and families
Genre:
Animation Musical Comedy
Length:
1 hr. 27 min.
Year of Release:
2019
USA Release:
May 3, 2019 (wide—3,652 theaters)
DVD: July 30, 2019
Copyright, STX Entertainment click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, STX Entertainment Copyright, STX Entertainment
Relevant Issues
Copyright, STX Entertainment

Self-image / body-image

SELF-IMAGE—I’m ugly. Why was God so unfair to me this way? Answer

Dealing in a healthy way with perceived personal imperfections

Ways in which worldliness causes people to have unrealistic expectations and standards for personal appearance

Excessive concern with physical appearance

One of the world’s biggest and most common sins is SELF-CENTERED EGOTISM.


What is in your heart is more important than your external appearance

Who we are inside is what really counts

True beauty is not in the face, but in God’s light and love in your heart

ALIGN YOURSELF WITH GOD’S VIEW—your heart, thoughts and actions.

For a Christian, self-confidence is who we are in Christ; He is our identity, and God’s Holy Spirit dwells in us. Believe in what GOD can do THROUGH YOU. Devote your life to serving God faithfully, pursuing holiness, righteousness, being one who truly loves (an action, not an emotion)—doing good works.

What are goodness and righteousness?

For a follower of Christ, what is LOVE—a feeling, an emotion, or an action? Answer

TRUE LOVE—What is true love and how do you know when you have found it? Answer

What does the Bible say about HUMILITY?

HUMILITY before God is vitally important. Humility opens your eyes. Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought (Romans 12:3). Pride comes before a fall (1 Timothy 3:6). What does God love, and what does He hate? (a humble repentant heart and a prideful sinful one) / If we suffocate pride, we will starve every other sin of its oxygen.

I must decrease, and He [Christ] must increase (John 3:30).

Good works

SATAN’S STRATEGY—What is one of Satan’s most successful strategies in dealing with followers of Christ? Answer

Narcissism / vanity

Featuring: Kelly ClarksonMoxy (voice)
Nick JonasLou (voice)
Janelle MonáeMandy (voice)
Blake SheltonOx (voice)
PitbullUgly Dog (voice)
Gabriel IglesiasBabo (voice)
Wanda SykesWage (voice)
Emma RobertsWedgehead (voice)
Leehom Wang … Lucky Bat (voice)
Charli XCX … Kitty (voice)
Bebe Rexha … Tuesday (voice)
Lizzo … Lydia (voice)
Laura Nicole Harrison … Jumbotron (voice)
Jane Lynch … Scanner, Electronic Voice
Stephen Zimpel … Michael (voice)
Jacques Colimon … Sporko (voice)
Ice-T … Peggy (voice)
Kelly Asbury … Gibberish Cat, Oliver, Chef, Buttons
Director: Kelly Asbury—“Shrek 2” (2004), “Gnomeo and Juliet” (2011), “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” (2002)
Producer: Alibaba Pictures [China]
Original Force [China]
See all »
Distributor: Distributor: STX Entertainment. Trademark logo.
STX Entertainment

“Become who you are, and you’ll set yourself free”

With much to both like and dislike, this unusual kids’ film attempts to solve an ‘ugly’ problem with cheap philosophies and idealism.

The concept is interesting. We begin at a toy factory, following a chute to see where the non-perfect dolls are sent: a ‘crazy quilt world’ named Uglyville, where each new arrival is warmly welcomed. Every day consists of songs, food and wild partying. It’s a pleasant enough life, except that a particularly determined toy named Moxy can’t help dreaming of ‘the big world’ where children hug and love their specially chosen dolls. The local mayor and spiritual adviser try to dissuade her, but Moxy and a bunch of friends rebel and explore the chute. They arrive in another land called “Institute of Perfection” where dolls compete in training to “earn your ticket to the big you-know-where” of “eternal bliss”—the Big World. Moxy is thrilled that the myth is actually true—her faith is rewarded!

Led by their idol, Louis, the recently-individualized dolls, all dressed in school uniforms, learn to be ‘Perfects’ that are fit for survival in a big-world family home. Moxy, too, is determined to succeed, especially when Louis repeatedly belittles them all. She wants to prove that ugly dolls can be lovable, too. But she couldn’t have imagined just how ugly the competition will get. What will Moxy learn and earn?

Attractive Aspects

In short, there’s both brilliance and insanity to the composition. Technical aspects, such as lighting and textures, are lovely. The sun is a ball of yellow taffeta; hems and seams are visible everywhere. Even the many songs are well executed and only slightly corny. Unfortunately, though, errors of judgment regarding age suitability and mental health issues drag all this down.

Initially, the viewer may be captivated, drawn deep into the story, because it seems sweet and solid. Its Uglyville characters are like friendly huggable candies who outshine our world with their personalities. For example, Uglyville is a great example of an accepting community. They know that beauty is not just what your eyes see but also what is hidden inside of each heart. It is only when confronted with other beings and their disdain, that the UglyDolls start to doubt their worth, usefulness and future.

Filmmakers and singers have certainly worked hard to infuse the film with positive messages to build teens’ resilience for sometimes-cruel school life. They’ve striven to clearly condemn much of the wrong and criminal behavior. Nevertheless, the nasty language is dwelt on and may backfire, for bullying victims and viewers with pre-existing mental illnesses such as depression. I’m not convinced that the film safely provides an expression for frustrations or the answers to self-worth issues.

Ugly Aspects

Some adults would say that there is little to dislike in this movie. Of course, the villain is bad, and, of course, there’s a problem that needs to be overcome. However, my gut says that the nastiness goes way too far. Read on and judge for yourself.

The villain is pretty far from perfect, despite every Perfect looking up to Louis. He dresses like a popstar, croons like Elvis—with organ music in the background, like a televangelist—and claims that he only prejudges dolls in order to protect them from rejection in ‘the big world.’ The sort of things he says and does include:

  • “Listen up or you haven’t got a prayer”
  • “Are your glutes as tight as mine?”
  • “You’re ugly, and that’s the ugly truth. Kids just don’t want ugly.”
  • “I’m not sure where you belong, but it’s not here.”
  • Hangs an ‘UGLY’ sign around someone’s neck. Throws a person in the trash can. Pokes at another’s torso accusingly. Puts a paper bag over someone’s head, implying that their face is ugly. Criticizes each newcomer to the point of tears. Stamps on a girl’s prescription glasses, crushes them, then throws them into a furnace.
  • Calls Moxy and friends “The Uglies” and “sock puppets,” and his Perfects he calls airheads.
  • Uses fear to make everyone shape up. “I don’t want to see any of you get rejected.”
  • “All your hard work has been for nothing. You are still ugly dolls. There’s no change in that.”
  • “You don’t belong anywhere. You shouldn’t even exist.”

With my experience in the fields of childhood education, psychology and counseling, these attitudes ring alarm bells. And several of the other Perfects take on his reasoning, with phrases our kids don’t need to hear, like, “Don’t cry: it’ll give you frown lines.”

In private, we see that Louis is shamelessly planning evil and is as vain as can be, with his walls covered in self-portraits. I’m reminded of Satan who became proud about his good looks (Ezekiel 28:17) and eventually tried to take control from God’s hands. While the Perfects defend Louis because they still believe “he means well,” the visitors can see that his unkind behavior overflows from an ugly heart. His bullying behavior has arisen from jealousy, and so he hates and mistreats anyone with an ‘imperfection’ according to his own standards.

Another concern, leading on from Louis’s brutal treatment of the Uglies in order to maintain his power, is the state of dismal despair that Uglyville descends into. As the mayor shockingly declares to his citizens, “We UglyDolls are nothing but rubbish.” Local newspapers report of that ‘truth,’ the sun goes dark, shops are “closed due to hopelessness,” poverty and disrepair abound. Characters in rags line up for soup, and one says, “I need something stronger than this soup.” A friend tells Moxy, “Wake up or don’t. It doesn’t matter.” And Louis returns to mock and taunt them about their “pity party,” then seeks to completely destroy all Uglies. All this is rather heavy, especially when coupled with the bullying and devaluing of life.

Thirdly, the general scariness and inclusion of upper-teenage joking makes up our minds about whether “UglyDolls” is suitable for children. It is not safe.

Looking Deeper

Obviously, the issues I’ve already mentioned are fairly deep, in terms of the psychological health and identity struggles of teens. Beyond these, though, there’s also a religious aspect to “UglyDolls.” Several characters mention faith and church terminology, and the songs also contain many Bible references, but, overall, the messages are quite anti-God. Here are some lyrics from the songs: “You define yourself—you and no one else.” BUT the Bible tells us that our Creator God has unique hopes, instructions and plans for each of us—wonderful beyond what we can ask or imagine.

“Walking on water, turning water into wine / I’m phenomenal, I’m enough / Someone just hold me, don’t fix me / I’m broken and it’s beautiful.” Therefore, best I can figure, the makers are trying to say that being broken is fine, and we should think positively about our brokenness and our inner ‘powers,’ embracing our ‘as is’ instead of seeking any fix or change. While this works on a small scale, such as in relation to having large ears, it is completely inadequate for life’s big problems such as oppression, injustice, sinfulness, addictions and stereotyping. Teens might be persuaded, but sensible adults know that we’re each broken in ways that are not beautiful. For that we need a spiritual fix on a big scale.

When Moxy is struggling, she is sent to see the town’s ‘spiritual adviser’ who uses a mix of counseling, tea leaf reading, fortune cookies and shallow philosophy, such as ‘believe in yourself’ and ‘find your own truth.’ Essentially, though, Moxy hears only what she wants to hear, and the adviser lacks the strength to tell her that she’s wrong. Moxy then persuades him to accompany her in her quest, because “What could make you wiser than solving the greatest mystery?” i.e. Whether there is a Heaven-like place called The Big World.

Other aspects, such as ‘celebrating weird,’ tiptoe close to the line of accepting what is evil, in the name of inclusion and embracing difference.

However, “UglyDolls” also contains several themes well worth exploring, for stable and mature young adults. These include hints at why we might have been created with a difference (because there’ll be a situation in the world that needs our unique attributes) and how to handle feeling ‘less’ because of these confounding differences. Another theme is our natural longing to be loved even while we’re imperfect.

To address all these issues, our starting point is Christ Jesus. He “had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him” (Isaiah 53:2). He longed to be in ‘the big world’ where He’d be understood and loved just as He was, instead of here where cruel people attacked even His best works. Yet, He chose to trust in what the Scriptures said about the worth, purpose and loved status of people. He held on to the conviction that we are all lovable, no matter our looks or depravity, and simply got on with showing love and compassion to everyone—even His enemies. In so doing, He found the path He was to take, and eventually God proved Him wise, silencing the bullies.

So ‘ugly’ is just a word, when used about people’s appearance—there may be a great heart hiding underneath the labels we pile onto others. But in God’s sight, the true ugliness is a heart or way of life that spews out wickedness such as mockery, lies, murderous wishes and degradation. There is only one cure for such darkness, hate and secret misery as that within Louis’s heart… Jesus is the One who can turn it all around and restore the beauty and even perfection that humanity was created for.

Let’s hold fast to that great hope we Christians have of finding our place in ‘the big world’ and while we live down here, share the compassion and unconditional love of our Lord who knows who we’ve been, who we are and who we will become—and loves us.

Finishing Touches

Hollywood has made a stack of films like “UglyDolls” already, about feeling ugly and worthless because of others’ shallow judgments or cruel lies. Unfortunately, it’s rare to find one that truly helps with the issue, because only fully relying on God’s view of us can ever solve this issue for any human. This film is just the same, though it tries hard to provide answers and strength.

My experience of “UglyDolls” began with keen interest and appreciation of the beautiful artistry, then progressed to being impressed with the deep issues addressed, but then this turned to grave concern because of the overemphasis on bullying and suicide themes. I strongly believe these are best left for being dealt with in counselors’ offices, families and churches, not in entertainments that can stir up strong emotions and which don’t provide the solid answers found only in our identity as creations of God.

My recommendation for most people is to not to see this movie. Especially children (due to scary themes and bad behaviors), teens (due to mental illness and bullying) and anyone else who feels they’d be vulnerable to the aforementioned themes in any way.

But it did get at least one thing right: when we become who we are [but as a carefully-designed child of God!] we will be set free. This comes through the Lord Jesus Christ who alone can rescue us from sin and ourselves, show us who we really are and fill our lives with purpose.

“…While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” —Romans 5:8 NIV

“…Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting; but a woman [or any person] who fears the Lord is to be praised.” —Proverbs 31:30 NIV

  • Violence and Mental Illness Triggers: Heavy— As listed above, plus: • bullying • frequent threats • depression • suicide • “So long, ugly world” • assaults • theft • kidnapping • deception • dread • many violent suggestions for punishments • murder and genocide • person kicks a baby • character deliberately trapped in a washing machine • “Tell my family I love them…” • “Sad in a totally shameful way” • “They look better on him (then you)” • “[I] crushed their spirits” • “as empty-headed as the rest of them” • “I don’t even have to win: just make sure you lose” • huge metal dog with sharp teeth grabs dolls by the head and violently shakes them • trapped in mouth and no one helps • story of a doll sucked into a vacuum • “Mindless sycophant! Imbecile!” • “Trap you in this world forever” • food fight
  • Sex/Nudity/Crudity: Moderate— • pet with deep manly voice attempts to seduce a girl in school clothes, to which she responds, “Ew” • corsets added to help dolls ‘shape up’ • “Looking oh so juicy” • “My pants are tight and I like it” • topless painting of the leader • when popstar smiles, girls faint • “Move your butts” • “No butts about it” • baby with pants down, bare rear • “Ouch, right in the buttons” • “embrace all our messy bits”
  • Language: • 5 uses of “Oh my g*sh” • “Oh my doll” • “Get lost”
  • Alcohol/Drugs: “I need something stronger than this soup,” says a homeless man.
  • Occult: Moderate
Ugliness and suffering

SELF-IMAGE—I’m ugly. Why was God so unfair to me this way? Answer

Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer

Does God feel our pain? Answer

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Neutral
Neutral—Well made animation, but boring and predictable story with obnoxious narrative. Packed with simple songs. I was expecting something Trolls-like, but “UglyDolls” is just not that interesting nor funny. No objectionable content though. If you are watching with kids, I would recommend it… but it is not for long time storage.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
Vladislav Valentinov, age 42 (USA)

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Secular Movie Critics
…It may not be perfect but this snappy animated musical confection has plenty of charms of its own. …[3/5]
Pete Hammond, Deadline Hollywood
…a winsomely appealing and joke-happy bauble for kiddies… feels like ‘Trolls Lite’ uses the Ugly Dolls to salute the power of being your beautiful ugly—individual—self…
Owen Gleiberman, Variety
…“UglyDolls” won’t stand the test of time as a memorable animated film. …
Carlos Aguilar, The Wrap
…less a movie than an infomercial for the plush Hasbro toys… It’s not bad. It’s just not very good. …[2]
Nell Minow, RogerEbert.com
…movie too comfortable with its own mediocrity… never pretends that it’s anything more than an 88-minute toy commercial…
David Ehrlich, IndieWire
…the story is only skin-deep… flat, listless and narratively bland…
Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service
…The biggest blunder is the film’s screenplay that goes all over the place as it's unable to keep its target audience in focus - it veers between catering to kids and then to adolescents… [2/5]
Neil Soans, The Times of India
…Preachy and lethargic, it’s a blatant infomercial… [3/10]
Susan Granger, SSG Syndicate