Kelly Clarkson, Janelle Monáe, Nick Jonas, Blake Shelton: No, that’s not the lineup of a music festival you can’t afford, but a taste of the talented cast of STX’s endearing animated film UglyDolls, based on the popular doll line. It’s no wonder the soundtrack (which features beats by all the aforementioned stars) is brimming with upbeat, body-positive bops.
The movie tells of less than perfect dolls who end up in Uglyville (basically a scrap heap for faulty toys) when deemed unacceptable and unlikely to be lovable by a perspective child-owner. Kelly Clarkson voices the character of Moxy, an imperfect doll who endeavors to become part of the real world and find the perfect child for her, despite her flaws. When she bumps into and befriends Monáe’s Mandy — an ostensibly perfect doll (though she wears glasses which is apparently a flaw in her hometown of Perfection) — they start to see a way to change attitudes towards physical appearance and sing a bunch of catchy songs along the way. Of course, their madly talented co-stars Clarkson, Shelton, Jonas, Charli XCX, Lizzo and Bebe Rexha help them out/hinder their efforts along the way.
Ahead of the movie’s May 3 release, we caught up with Monáe to get the far-from-ugly truth.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What about this project made you want to be part of it?
JANELLE MONAE: I loved, loved, loved the script when I read it and I saw myself in Mandy. I saw myself in the ugly dolls and I just thought it was a no-brainer. The message was clear: embrace the things that make you unique, even it makes others uncomfortable. It celebrates the weirdos, the outcasts those who come from marginalized communities. Mandy and the Uglydolls get to take down a patriarchy, they get to take down an abuser of power and that’s what I love about it.
Was there much prep for this or was it just a ton of fun every day?
I take what I do very seriously, but it is also fun. I love what that character can sound like, and that you can just kind of build a whole portfolio and backstory for Mandy; I love getting into all of that. I did that with every role I’ve done to date, so it’s no different and you just have fun. Animation is so great and watching your character come to life after they’ve illustrated her, and working with the designers to add little cool elements to her look and sound, it’s all just making art and having a great time.
Did you get to spend any time recording with any of your fellow cast members (Kelly Clarkson, Blake Shelton, Nick Jonas, Charli XCX, Lizzo etc.)?
We didn’t get the opportunity to be in a room altogether which I would’ve loved. Everybody is recording and touring and making movies and making albums and living life. I would listen to their voices, get emails, there’d be notes here and there, but our spirits were just connected. I think everyone did the movie for the reason I mentioned earlier: To celebrate the weirdos and the outcasts and to bond together and show what it looks like when you support each other and create communities when you walk in your truth. That’s what I felt from all of their voices remotely and I hope that it comes across that we genuinely enjoyed highlighting these messages. I love them all.
You have two songs on the soundtrack, “All Dolled Up” and “Unbreakable.” What can you share about those?
“All Dolled Up” is Mandy trying to help the dolls with their look. It’s to be determined if she succeeded or fail. It was just so fun to record and sing some of the lines as I poked fun at them. Then “Unbreakable” is really meant to encourage us all through our darkest times. We can all be experiencing them in different ways; it’s not like you’re not going to get tested, but you just have to remember that it won’t last always. You are indeed unbreakable. I think this song is a great way of reminding us that we will prevail.
What do you hope the takeaway from this movie is?
I want everyone to go see it. I don’t think there’s too young or too old of an age to go and see it. I think families can walk out and feel more empowered. We’ve all had those moments where we just didn’t feel like we fit and I think it will start conversations around what it means to protect each other and what it means to love yourself even in times of opposition or when people aren’t believing in you. I think it’s a powerful film that’s done in such a fun way that you’re going to be singing, laughing — and hopefully — dancing to the soundtrack.
The UglyDolls grace theaters Friday, May 3.
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