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Rating: PG

Genre: Animation/Kids/ Action/Adventure/Comedy

Writing Credits: Alison Peck – screenplay, Robert Rodriguez – story and based on characters by Sun-min Kim and David Horvath

Directed By: Kelly Asbury

Runtime: Cast: Voices of Kelly Clarkson as Moxy; Nick Jonas as Lou; Blake Shelton as Ox; Janelle Monáe as Mandy; Pitbull as Ugly Dog; Wanda Sykes as Wage; Leehom Wang as Lucky Bat

MOVIE PREVIEW by Bob Hoose - PluggedIn


The perfectly adorable but misshapen doll Moxy believes in something special: A wonderful place where human children adopt dolls like her forever. Granted, she's never actually seen that rumored outside world. (In fact, she's never even seen a child.) But she is unabashedly certain that it all exists out there somewhere. It's a dream that fills her heart with fuzzy feelings of hope and love.

So each day she leaps out of bed with a smile on her face and a song on her pink, fuzzy lips. She dances through her little town, Uglyville, and declares to every other misfit and misshapen dollish resident that maybe, just maybe, today will be the day that they'll somehow connect with their loving new owners! Today!

But despite Moxy's earnest faith, well, she doesn't really have much to base it on. That's why most of Uglyville's other imperfect residents just snort and roll their button eyes at Moxy's unbelievable dream. There's no big world or children out there, they chuckle. That's just a story. A nice one, sure, but a tall tale nonetheless. But they don't mind Moxy singing another cheery song in their cheery oddball town. In fact, tomorrow will bring another happy, sunny day, and another reason to sing out a little joy. It's all good.

Truth is, Moxy is just as happy as all the rest. But she can't help but wonder aloud: "Haven't you ever felt that, even when you're happy, there's something more?" That unexplained feeling sticks with her as if sewn into her plush heart with steel thread.

Then one morning, the ever-curious Moxie starts thinking about the big mountainside that nestles up to their square-peg-in-a-round-hole town. There's an opening way up on the mountain's side that will occasionally shoot out another doll with too many eyes, or a stuffed puppy with a head that's too flat on one side. But nobody's ever wondered where that tunnel comes from. Or where it … goes.

Until today, that is.

So Moxy gathers a few friends, and they make their way into the depths of that mysterious dark opening. And they find something quite unexpected: It's a place called The Institute of Perfection. It's a sparkly clean new realm filled with beautiful dolls. Unlike Moxy's motley crew, they all have perfect shining eyes, perfect woven hair, perfect teeth, perfect clothes.

These dolls are everything that Moxy and her friends are not. And the most perfect of their number—a singing, dancing dreamboat named Lou—is there to groom his spotless doll charges and lead them to their ultimate goal. If they can prove themselves worthy—if they can show that they're beautiful and perfect enough—they can pass through a crystal portal and enter the world of humans. Once there, they'll be wrapped in the warm embrace of … a loving child!

Well, Moxie just about sinks to her knees and cries tears of joy right then and there. She knew that place existed. She knew there were loving human children out there somewhere. She just knew it.

There's just one little problem. Well, two actually. One, Moxy and her misfit mates are anything but perfect. And two, smooth-talking Lou isn't about to let the freakish likes of these ugly dolls find happily ever after in the arms of a loving child.

The dolls at the Institute of Perfection are all uniformly pretty and fashionable. And at first, Moxy and friends pursue that paradigm of perfection, convinced (despite their formerly carefree life in Uglyville) that they are in fact useless rejects (a sigh-worthy impression that's harshly promoted and encouraged by Lou). But UglyDolls makes it crystal clear that external beauty and seeming perfection, while nice, are not the things of greatest importance. In fact, the prettiest dolls here also tend to be the meanest and least likeable.

Eventually, though, Moxy and her friends reject the superficial value system of the Institute of Perfection. Along the way, they also make self-sacrificial choices, and we see that what truly matters is what's on the inside.

The ugly dolls' friendship and self-sacrifice also change the minds of some of the perfection-focused Institute dolls. "Love and compassion are a doll's true purpose," the film declares—a message of encouragement that obviously applies to young human viewers as well. It's also made very plain that individual differences and even seeming imperfections are the things that make us special and "make us shine!" The film repeats and reinforces that redemptive theme a number of times before the credits roll.

Early on, you could say that Moxy's belief in an "outside world" filled with loving children is akin to faith in an unseen, heaven-like realm. Even when her friends deny any possibility of it being true, Moxy clings to her convictions—and acts upon them. Even the manipulative Lou seems to support this idea. But that's really about as far as the film takes this faith parallel.

But this feel-good tale also has some moments that seem to emphasize a kind of personalized relativism. A couple of times, we hear the idea that you have to "find your own truth." That said, this line is never really unpacked or explored. And it seems to be couched in the context of encouraging Moxy to hold onto her "faith" in the hope of finding a loving child of her own.

One scene involves a character opening a fortune cookie. That character obviously doesn't take the fortune inside very seriously, but Moxy does. She also asks him to read the tea leaves at the bottom of her drink. Though he's very hesitant to act in the "fortune telling" role Moxy's bestowed on him, when he says the word "leaves," Moxy receives it as a prophetic word for her to leave Uglyville.

Several girl dolls sigh and swoon over the handsome Lou. One of them says she has a crush on him.

Moxy's friend Ugly Dog (voiced, I guess appropriately, by the singer Pitbull) seems interested in romance. He brags a couple of times about how suave he is with the ladies—who mostly don't seem to notice his attempts to attract them.

After a doll accidentally steps on a rake and gets thumped, he doubles over, groaning, "Ooooh, right in the buttons." Lou makes a concerted effort to discourage Moxy and her friends—sending them into messy situations and then repeatedly tossing them into a tumbling washing machine. (The washing machine is said to be the enemy of perfection because it causes wear and tear on the dolls.)

There's also a gauntlet that competing dolls must work their way through that involves dangers such as a huge robot dog, a gigantic vacuum and a rambunctious robo-baby. These robot opponents try to grab dolls that pass by. We do indeed see a doll get tossed around in the jaws of a dog and another sucked up into a vacuum cleaner bag. But the attacks are never truly perilous.

Several different characters are kidnapped, wrapped in a large sack and thumped about quite a bit. Lou threatens Moxy and others with a recycling machine that looks like a set of chomping and slashing jaws. (This is the most intense visual in the film for very young and/or sensitive little viewers.) Moxy and her friends are almost swallowed up by this contraption, but they're eventually rescued by a number of brave and devoted friends.

Characters call out "oh my gosh" clearly a handful of times. Other times, we hear variations such as "oh my goll" or "oh my doll."

A very depressed character looks at a bowl of gray gruel and groans, "I need something stronger than this soup." Ugly Dog and a female doll sit at a table with, it seems, wine glasses.

A trusted individual lies, though he believes he's doing so to protect others. We find out that Lou is a vindictive individual who repeatedly manipulates others to aggrandize himself.

Moxy and all the residents of Uglyville temporarily become convinced, thanks to Lou, that they are totally worthless because of their many imperfections. They all become incredibly depressed as a result. Their normally colorful world turns drab and gray. And one despondent character even seems to give up totally as his small boat sinks (though a mother octopus rescues him).

We hear someone shout, "Move your butts!"

There's a certain irony in the fact that a movie that encourages kids to embrace their imperfections is itself a bit misshapen and lumpy at times. Specifically, those occasional "find your own truth" bits and pieces, while never fully explored, still feel unnecessarily stitched in.

However, like the pink, purpose-driven hero at its core, this movie's heart is warm, fuzzy and endearing. UglyDolls encourages kids (and maybe even the parents who brought them) to stop worrying about everyone else's "perfect" standards.

Instead, the story instructs, focus on being the most loving, compassionate and kind versions of yourself that you can be. After all, those things are far more important than the hippest hair styles or the flashiest fashions. And no matter how perfect someone might seem from the outside, it's the character a person has on the inside that really counts.

Add those cuddly truths to this delightful story's sweet moments, and you've got a misfit pic that's a solid matinee fit for your fam.