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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that UglyDolls is about a group of plushy toys who learn they're worthy of love despite their unconventional looks. While that core message is undeniably positive, other messages weaken its impact, including catchy songs that tell listeners they're unworthy if they're "ugly" and that it's important to follow conventional beauty standards if you want others to like you. Adults are likely to understand that these lyrics aren't intended to be taken at face value, but that's much less certain for kids. Happily, other songs have more positive messages -- including "your differences make you special." And characters demonstrate perseverance and teamwork in pursuing their goals. There's a bit more scary stuff and violence than parents might expect, including hand-to-hand combat (no blood or injuries); several scenes in which characters fall or are pushed from great heights or down dark, scary holes; and a very frightening bit in which dolls are threatened with being "recycled" and are almost shredded by a big, loud, monster-like machine with sharp metal teeth. There's no sex or romance, but a male character offers his crush a bottle of sparkling wine and asks whether she can feel the "energy" between them. A few characters are stereotyped as "mean girls"; they do the bad guy's dirty work and talk in a clichéd way about boys, hairstyles, and makeup. Other characters are more sympathetic, including a doll who's dreaming of having a child to love her and a girl who's been trying to appear perfect and learns that she's lovable even if she's not. Kelly Clarkson and Nick Jonas co-star.
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What's the story?
In a quirky little town called Uglyville, Moxy (voiced by Kelly Clarkson) lives among the UGLYDOLLS and hopes every day that today will be the day when she finds a child to love her. But she's gotten impatient for the outside world to find her -- and now she's decided to go in search of the world. She brings a cadre of loyal friends with her: lovable big lug Babo (Gabriel Iglesias), slick Ugly Dog (Pitbull), shy Lucky Bat (Leehom Wang), and cranky Wage (Wanda Sykes). What they find is the Institute of Perfection, which is under the total control of gorgeous uber-doll Lou (Nick Jonas) and is where dolls go to grow "from pretty to perfect." Is it really necessary to be perfect to be loved? Or will the UglyDolls learn to embrace their imperfections?
Is it any good?
The visuals are bright and appealing, the songs are catchy, and the toy-looking-for-love setup is sweet enough to appeal to kids and adults alike. But there are more mixed messages about looks and self-worth in UglyDolls than many parents will be comfortable with. True, the movie's overarching themes are "love yourself" and "your differences make you special," but we get to these ideas relatively late in the movie, after we've watched the main characters get shamed at length for being themselves. Adding weight to the iffy messages are two prominently featured (and quite catchy) songs, "The Ugly Truth" and "All Dolled Up." The first one, sung by the movie's villain, is a little easier to dismiss, though its message -- "ugly = worthless" -- is pretty harsh, and there's a moment when Lou moves down a line of dolls explaining why each is unacceptably imperfect ("You're way too short! You're too thin! Is that a blemish on your double chin?") that's cringeworthy.
"All Dolled Up," sung by the sympathetic Mandy (Janelle Monáe), is more problematic. To adults, it's obvious that Mandy's heart isn't in statements like "When you're all dolled up, people only see what you want them to see." But to kids, the message the song sends is more uncomfortable -- as if the "solution" to being different is to pretend not to be. It's not until the movie gets to the song "Unbreakable" that parents will sit up and really enjoy the vibe being pumped out: Be yourself, and show them you can't be broken. Once UglyDolls turns that corner, it's all sweetness and smiles: Perfection and Uglyville merge, everyone learns to love and accept themselves, and Moxy finds her place in a child's arms. Spoiler alert? Nah, you knew it was coming. It's just a shame that this happy ending doesn't feel more earned.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about UglyDolls' messages about appearance. Does everyone agree about what's beautiful and what's not? What do Moxy and her friends learn about finding happiness and accepting themselves?
What does Moxy's storyline tell us about self-image? Why didn't she think a child would love her as she is? How did her adventures at the Institute of Perfection ultimately give her the confidence to believe in herself?
Which parts of the movie were scary? Why? How much scary stuff can young kids handle?
How does Mandy compare to the other "mean girl" doll characters? Do you think she was the only one of the four who had more depth to her?
- In theaters: May 3, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: July 30, 2019
- Cast: Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, Janelle Monáe
- Director: Kelly Asbury
- Studio: STX Entertainment
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Friendship, Great Girl Role Models
- Character strengths: Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 88 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements and brief action
- Last updated: February 25, 2020
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