Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

dir Kelly Asbury
scr Alison Peck
prd Jane Hartwell, Robert Rodriguez
with Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, Janelle Monae, Blake Shelton, Wanda Sykes, Gabriel Iglesias, Wang Leehom, Pitbull, Lizzo, Bebe Rexha, Charli XCX, Emma Roberts, Ice-T, Jane Lynch
release US 3.May.19,
UK 16.Aug.19
19/US STX 1h27

clarkson jonas monae

luckybat, babo, uglydog, moxy and wage
This brightly coloured animated musical adventure is set in an alternate reality where toys divide themselves into societies based on how they look. Try not to think about that. Thankfully, the voice cast is packed with popstars who are be great at pouring sparky attitude into their performances. And while the message is over-preached, it's an important one, especially whenever these adorably cute oddballs who call themselves "ugly".
In Uglyville, where factory-reject toys go, misfit stuffed critters wait to be adopted into the Big World. When another day passes, pink furball Moxy (Clarkson) decides to find her own way with her blue best pal UglyDog (Pitbull), the wise salmon-coloured LuckyBat (Leehom), the resourceful grey blob Babo (Iglesias) and the sassy orange Wage (Sykes). They make their way to the Institute of Perfection, a kind of toy purgatory, and Moxy thinks they can prove they're as loveable as the pretty dolls. But heartthrob leader Lou (Jonas) is determined to stop them.
Along the way, each of the singers in the cast gets to belt out a pop tune or two, well-produced numbers written with the understated subtlety of a Sesame Street song that conveys the idea that it's better to enjoy life as you are than to try to fit into some unattainable mould. But then nothing about this movie is subtle. Lou has a trio of image-obsessed henchgirls (Lizzo, Rexha and Charli XCX), and his main sidekick Mandy (Monae) secretly feels inferior because she needs glasses. So she's the one who teams up with Moxy to challenge the system.

The animation is vividly designed and rendered. "Pretty" dolls are oddly presented as giant plastic heads on stick-thin bodies, blandly uninteresting toys kids would only play with if nothing else was available. "Ugly" dolls are cuddly must-have-nows. The cast is terrific, bringing snap to both groups. And as their personalities bounce off each other, the film actually manages to keep the audience smiling. Jonas steals the show with his high-cackle laugh and pathologically insane line readings.

The plot and characters are never developed beyond the original idea, so there isn't much of an arc to the story. Everything that happens is thoroughly predictable, the action beats never feel remotely thrilling, and the constant moralising is more than a little exhausting. The theme is overtly stated at the top ("Stop listening to what others tell you"), then shouted loudly in each anthemic musical number. At least it ends on a delicate note.

cert u themes, violence 2.Aug.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall