'UglyDolls' Stumble Shows Indie Animation Perils

By Robert Marich
  May 7, 2019-The uninspiring box office for UglyDolls shows the difficulties that independent film companies face in trying to crack the family animation film segment.
   Startup indie STX Entertainment just premiered UglyDolls to a weak $8.6 million weekend for May 3-5 domestically (U.S. and Canada). The cartoon-genre movie is based on the hit UglyDoll (note no “S”) toy line launched in 2001.
   “What went wrong here from our numerous interviews is that STX rushed this feature into production over the last year, despite
rapper Pitbull and his character are highlighted

the fact that they’ve been talking this up over the last five years,” writes journalist Anthony D’Alessandro. His post mortem is fascinating and includes many interesting tidbits.
   For instance, the domestic print-and-advertising spend was $40 million—which is deemed low but that’s pretty hefty when $50 million is considered benchmark for such marketing expenditures for major-studio releases.
   The animated family movie sports a well-known voice-over cast including Kelly Clarkson, Janelle Monae and Pitbull, but was made for just $53 million, versus $100 million when major studios produce CGI animation movies, per The look and talent for UglyDolls is fine, but film critics are mixed. Reviews website summarizes: “Very young viewers may be entertained by UglyDolls -- if only because they're less likely to recognize the many familiar elements in its affirmative yet formulaic story.”
   STX Entertainment is a well-financed startup led by movie producer Robert Simonds, who previously produced a string of mid-budget, live-action comedies. But his four-old company STX is struggling at the box office with a broad slate of mid-budget films.
   D’Alessandro writes that STX “put together a long list of 100 global promotional partners (including McDonalds, Walmart, Carl’s Jr/Hardee’s, Pinkberry etc.), so that they could achieve a lower P&A spend (reportedly $40M domestic, with the TV spot spend portion of that number in the high single digits). In lieu of spending excessively on TV spots, STX leaned on such stunts as Clarkson performing the movie’s single ‘Broken and Beautiful’ on The Voice and The Billboard Music Awards. Anecdotally, if you’re in LA or NY, try finding a billboard that isn’t advertising UglyDolls.”
   Interestingly, a second story notes that the weak $8.6 million domestic weekend premiere was below tracking studies audience research that forecast $12-14 million. That’s a big percentage miss for movie research and represents another marketing wrinkle in the Ugly Dolls marketing saga.
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