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Kelly Asbury’s new cg animated feature, Uglydolls, is the first animated venture produced by STX Entertainment’s family and animation division, and unfortunately for the studio, reviews have been largely negative. The movie currently holds an alarming 32% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The film opens today in the U.S. on 3,652 screens. Box office pundits are estimating a wide range between $7-15 million for its opening weekend.

Based on the plush toy line created in 2001 by David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim, Uglydolls follows a pack of misshapen soft toys as they go on a musical journey to discover how their flaws actually make them special and unique. The screenplay was written by Alison Peck from a story by Robert Rodriguez, who is also credited as a producer. The star-studded voice cast is comprised of numerous singers including Kelly Clarkson, Pitbull, Nick Jonas, Blake Shelton, and Janelle Monáe.

Produced by Reel FX Animation in Montreal and Original Force in China, the movie is a mid-range cg feature with an estimated $45 million budget.

In Cartoon Brew’s recent interview with Asbury, the director noted he was impressed and satisfied with how Uglydolls turned out despite the relatively limited resources at their disposal:

We tried to work within the limitations of what we had. We were not a high-budget film that was taking six years to be made, so there were things where we had to say, “Okay, let’s find a creative way to make this look as good as it can with the tools we’ve got.” Reel FX is very good at that because they’ve done so many low-budget animated films and they’ve done commercials and they’ve done all sorts of small things for different movies, so they’ve learned techniques to get the most bang for their buck, if you will. They were great that way, and I’m very happy with the result that we got. To be honest, the movie looks better than I originally thought it would. I sort of said, “Okay, this is going to be something that’s not probably as rich as I would want it to be in most cases, but this is a different set of circumstances, [yet] it ended up being actually as rich. I feel like it’s as rich as anything I’ve directed in terms of look, so I was very happy with it.

Unfortunately, critics haven’t fallen for the merchandise-friendly project. One common complaint is that the screenplay appears to rehash elements from other more successful animated films dealing with sentient toys such as the Toy Story franchise, Trolls, and The Lego Movie. Others feel that there is not much going for it in terms of style or visual originality. Reactions range from those who are apathetic to those with much more vitriolic takes.

Still, given that the target demographic skews young for this film, the film could end up beating the poor critical reviews and find a theatrical audience, similar to Paramount Animation’s Wonder Park, which has managed over $40 million domestic box office despite poor reviews.

Here are some takes on the film from critics at major publications:

For the New York Times, Glenn Kenny wrote about the previous works that Uglydolls borrows from:

[Every] aspect of this computer-animated movie directed by Kelly Asbury seems equally overdetermined and tossed-off, as if it were a caffeinated weekend project for everyone involved.

The neon colors bring to mind what a Candy Crush movie might look like, while the never-ending songs are cute, flavorless paeans to self-love. Individual scenes evoking The Lego Movie and Toy Story 3 feel like lifts rather than homages, and are blatant to the extent that your older kids might even notice.

Dismissing the movie as “a disposable piece of children’s entertainment,” Indiewire’s David Ehrlich said:

For a disposable piece of children’s entertainment that features Pit Bull as the voice of a one-eyed, party-mad puppy named Ugly Dog, there’s something refreshingly straightforward about how UglyDolls goes about its agenda. At no point in its mercifully brief running time does this colorful pop confection pretend that it’s anything more than an 88-minute commercial for an innocuous brand of plush toys, and for that we should be grateful. Sure, it’s not as psychedelic as Trolls, nor as impressive a monument to the mediocrity of late capitalism as The Angry Birds Movie, but at a time when the typical animated movie spends $100 million trying to exhaust its young audience into submission, it’s kinda nice to see one that costs half that much, and tries half as hard.

Writing for The New York Post, Johnny Oleksinski pointed out the feature appears to have merchandise sales as its only purpose:

The message of the screechy new kids’ movie UglyDolls may appear to be “Be yourself,” but the real takeaway here is “Buy our merch!”

That corporate greed is particularly noticeable in this latest film about a popular supermarket toy because the story is so insipid and creatively lacking. The script is garbage, the voice acting is wooden and the songs are as infectious — and deadly — as the Mister Softee jingle.

Even harsher notes came from The Hollywood Reporter’s Keith Uhlich, who described the film as:

[An] imbecilic eyesore that could lay claim to being one of the worst movies ever made if it was worth such hyperbole.

On a positive note, Michael O’Sullivan from the Washington Post found the movie and its characters endearing even if the world reminded him too much of other animated classics:

The off-kilter, jerry-built visual design of the place is actually pretty cute, even if it bears more than a passing resemblance, in spirit, to the Island of Misfit Toys from the 1964 Rankin/Bass holiday classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. There’s also a teensy touch of the Toy Story franchise here, especially in the movie’s secret-life-of-toys setting.

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