Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, Janelle Monáe Are Toys on a Mission in Animated Musical ‘UglyDolls’

A ragtag group of misfit toys get their chance to shine in the animated musical film “UglyDolls.” Based on a line of plush playthings, the movie follows Moxy (Kelly Clarkson), a pink doll with a missing tooth who lives in Uglyville with other plushies who resemble misshapen Sour Patch Kids, rejects from the factory from a factory assembly line. Despite the name of their little alcove, the residents of Uglyville are mostly content with their lives, except for Moxy, who still hopes that she will soon be adopted by a loving child. Despite warnings, she sets out on a journey to make her dreams come true, and what ensues is sparkling tale with important messages of self-acceptance and compassion.

Following Moxy into a portal into another world are a colorful group of pals voice by Wanda Sykes, Gabriel Iglesias, Leehom Wang, and Pitbull as smooth doggo simply known as Ugly Dog, the latter being something that the viewer didn’t know they needed in their life. What they discover on the other side is a compound in which dolls prepare for a placement in happy homes. The uglies stand out in this sea of seemingly perfect Barbie-like creations, but this doesn’t deter Moxy. None other than Nick Jonas voices Lou, the egomaniacal Ken doll of a trainer. He agrees to take on these newbies, although it’s clear that he has sinister ulterior motives, and he sends a trio of sycophants (Charli XCX, Bebe Rexha, Lizzo) to kidnap the kindly mayor of Uglyville, Ox (Blake Shelton). Lou is excessively harsh and abrasive, even for a cartoon villain. Not only does he do a song and dance about how ugly Moxy and her pals are, albeit a rather catchy one, he shows his sadistic side when he puts them through the ringer during training exercises, quite literally, as he repeatedly throws them in a washing machine.

Janella Monáe rounds out the cast as Mandy, a doll who is hiding an imperfection of her own—She wears glasses. While Lou and his cronies beat down Moxy and her friends, Mandy builds them up. At first, the focus is on the superficial, of course, but eventually they learn deeper truths that are taught in a way that kids understand.

The influence of the “Toy Story” franchise, particularly “Toy Story 3,” is obvious here in “UglyDolls.” And it’s not just because the toys are sentient beings, but also because there are some dark turns, including one involving a near-death experience for the dolls, if one can call it that, and by that point the viewer has come to care about these lovable little creatures. While That’s not to say this film is the same caliber as the Pixar film, although it certainly inspires plenty of warm fuzzies. What this film lacks in depth it attempts to make up for with lively musical numbers, as one would expect with a cast of some of the biggest names in music.

UglyDolls” opens May 3 nationwide.