The good news of the summer was that Toy Story 4 didn’t suck. The bad news is the arrival of this sugary manic kids’ animation whose sole reason for existence seems to be hardselling the UglyDolls brand of cuddly toys. The film-makers have pilfered Toy Story’s emotional core, the need of toys to belong – what is a toy without a kid to cuddle it? – and spooned on the treacle. The spin here is that the UglyDolls are toy factory rejects, living with the dreadful void of never having known the warm touch of a toddler or the feel of wet snot on the fur. The songs are horrifically soppy.
Kelly Clarkson voices relentlessly cheerful Moxxy, a fuzzy pink doll with a missing front tooth who lives in the town of Uglyville. Moxxy wakes up every morning believing that today is the day she’ll finally be picked to live with a child. The dark truth is that all the cuddlies in Uglyville have been spat out of a chute at the toy factory and on to the scrap heap. One day Moxxy travels up the chute and the story shifts to the Institute of Perfection, the final testing stage for dolls, where the mayor is evil doll kid Lou (Nick Jonas), a plasticky cross between Justin Bieber and Draco Malfoy.
Veteran Kelly Asbury (Gnomeo & Juliet, Shrek 2) directs with brisk professionalism but the script is fussily and unimaginatively plotted. I had a problem too with the film’s message. The point ostensibly being made is that it’s your imperfections that make you special – let your freak flag fly! Ugly is cool! But the film is constantly defining what ugly is: freckles, crooked teeth, excess weight, glasses, clumsiness. At times it feels like an unintentional crib sheet for under-sevens bullying.