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.