I’ve been a long time fan of the Uglydoll characters that David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim created almost 20 years ago. It all started in 2002 when I went to Giant Robot in West LA and bought my very first Uglydoll, which was Babo. From that very first Uglydoll now spans a collection that includes over 350 Uglydolls, possibly over 400.
Not only did I think they were cute but one of the things that made me such a fan is the creative force behind the Uglydolls, David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim, and the story behind their creation.
When Sun-Min had to move back to Korea due to her student visa expiring, they would communicate through letters. One of these letters included a doodle of a character at the bottom of the page with the words, ‘Working had to make our dreams come true so we can be together again soon”. Sun-Min sewed a doll of this character, which would become Wage, as a surprise gift for David. When he received the doll in the mail, he showed it to his friend Eric Nakamura, the owner of Giant Robot store, gallery, and magazine. Eric thought that David was pitching him a product and immediately ordered 20 to sell in the store. He asked Sun-Min if she could sew more, which she did and sent them to him. David dropped off the order of dolls to Eric but later that same day, Eric called David to tell him that the dolls sold out and he needed more. Thus began the Uglydolls from a letter of love.
The first time I met David and Sun-Min, it was in an elevator at the hotel we were both staying at during San Diego Comic-Con. This was before they had their own Uglydoll booth at SDCC and were signing at Toy2R’s booth. Since that first encounter, I have been fortunate enough to know and support these talented creators for so many years.
I was invited to the Uglydolls Premiere, where I saw David and Sun-Min, and asked if they would be okay if I could do a little Q&A with them on the movie, the toys, and other stuff.
The Uglydoll movie has been in development for quite a few years. The time has finally arrived, and the film is in theatres starting Friday, May 3rd. How are you and Sun-Min feeling on the release of the movie?
DAVID HORVATH. The funny thing is we are already so deep into what’is coming up next and so Far around the Corner that we probably should stop for a second to reflect on what’s going on right now, but that’s not how we do things. We are hard at work on what you’ll see from us next, and that’s’ where our true focus is. There are a lot of people handling all the moving parts and involved in the present day-to-day, who probably have more of an emotional connection to what’s happening right now whereas we are living 6 months to 6 years in the future and everything in between.
There were quite a few alterations to some of the characters from their original Uglydoll designs, such as the look of Babo and the name change of Gorgeous to Moxy for example. How much were you and Sun-Min involved in these changes?
DH. While we don’t want to get into anything which could be perceived as spoilers, as a brand I would certainly say there’s a classic brand and a movie brand in perhaps the same way there is a classic Pooh and Disney Pooh, or that’s at least as close as I can get my comparison without spoiling anything.
Wage and Babo were the two characters that started the Uglydolls. It’s been almost 20 years, and there are now over 100 characters that populate the Uglyverse that you and Sun-Min have created. Since Wage and Babo were the ones that started it all, it was only evident that they would be part of the main cast. Was it challenging to pick the other characters that would make up the main characters in the movie?
DH. Wage and Babo are still very much the main characters of the classic brand, but we both think Moxy is the perfect main character for this movie, the most important aspect being the story.
The movie assembled a great cast of singers, such as Kelly Clarkson, Blake Shelton, Nick Jonas, Pitbull, Janelle Monáe, Bebe Rexha, Lizzo, Charli XCX, and Ice-T. Did you ever think that the Uglydolls could be turned into an animated musical?
DH. Ice-T was what sold us on it working either way, but the music in this film is brilliantly executed and its strongest point without a doubt, and we both think anybody could keep the soundtrack in their car for years to come and it would live on, all on its own, the most important thing, musical or not, is the message…. And the main message of the brand in general, especially how one would go about compounding that into a 90-minute story to be understood by all ages. Ultimately the message is what it’s all about, and music is a wonderful way to relay ideas, we think.
I thought that the movie had an almost Toy Story feel to it and seemed to stay true to the uniqueness of the Uglydolls. How do you think the film did at representing the Uglydolls uniqueness?
DH. Uglydoll has been unique in many ways to many different people for many different reasons, for some being the design, for some being the play on the word UGLY and what that means, or that some actually do consider the plush dolls to be “ugly” whereas most others perhaps understand that they’re not ugly at all and that’s the whole point.
Uglydoll was always more about what’s going on with you on the inside vs. what you look like on the outside, but with social media becoming what it is and meaning what it means to children who are growing up with it and who never knew a world without it, the message is what matters the most and now is the right time to get it out there.
The animated Uglydoll series is set to air on Hulu and might be a bit different than the movie. Can you give some details on the series, how many episodes and when it will be airing?
DH. Very excited about the Hulu series, can’t say a word about it yet but will post info when able to.
After seeing the human doll characters in the movie from The Institute of Perfection, such as Lou and Mandy, is there any chance of seeing your Dream Big Friends?
DH. Sun-Min and I did not have a role in the design or creation of the Perfection dolls or The Institute of perfection, but we are definitely very excited for everybody to be able to own the future version of what started as dream big friends, which has since changed hands and turned it to something pretty exciting.
The Hasbro toys that were released for the movie came out really well. I especially liked how the blind mini figures came out. How much involvement did you have in the design of these toys?
DH. We are in love with everything Hasbro did, and in some ways, this is more like a toy line with a movie coming out to support it vs. the other way around.
While we did send over a ton of artwork in the very beginning, this is all thanks to the brilliant designers at Hasbro who grew up with our work and understood it from the very beginning, and having had to work on it so early in the process based much of it on the existing lore and art over the past almost 20 years.
We think this line is, dare we say, some of the very best toys ever to emerge from a mainstream toy company or perhaps any toy company, especially when you consider the price points and then look at the quality, craft, and care which went into every single piece… the surprise disguise Uglydoll figures for example… I challenge anyone to find anything which comes remotely close in terms of packaging design and paint applications and quality of materials. While design and aesthetics are subjective and up to the eye of the beholder, there’s no question Hasbro really threw everything they had into this line, and we are tremendously grateful for it and in awe of it.
My earliest memories of opening the Kenner toys from the 70s, not just Star Wars but milky the cow and many of their other lines… and finding that “we really do care” logo on the inner flaps of the packaging in the 70s, to have our toys coming from what is essentially that same company, and then finding little details such as the pegs in the play-sets which can used to stand your action figures with little Peg holes in the bottom of the feet, much like how they used to treat their action figures in the early days, it’s a real privilege.
The Target Exclusive Artist Series plush was designed in style similar to the original Uglydoll plush, but I still like the original Uglydoll plush. So when will we see the original Uglydoll plush return?
DH. We’re not ready to announce anything as for when the original Uglydoll plush will return, and we are super happy with the artist series now at Target, (as apparently others are also as it would seem they’re already almost sold out in most markets), the original Uglydoll plush will most certainly return someday. But for now, we are just too pleased with the Hasbro line, which has a life of its own and is, to us, perfect.
Recently, you revisited some of the other characters such as Bossy Bear, Turtle, Spider Boom, and Super Puncher. Is there anything more we can expect to see shortly on any of those characters? How about Pounda?
DH. Bossy Bear, Spider Boom, Super Puncher, and all of our other intellectual property and brands are in various stages on various projects, and we are excited to show you when we can.
Last year the Uglydoll booth at SDCC was focused on the movie with no merchandise for sale. Will there be anything new at SDCC this year?
DH. We won’t be able to attend the San Diego show this year, but there is something in the works and should be announced very soon!
Huge thanks to David and Sun-Min for taking some time from their busy schedule to do this little Q&A with us. The movie is in theaters now, rated PG and features the voices of Kelly Clarkson, Janelle Monáe, Blake Shelton, Wanda Sykes, Gabriel Iglesias, Wang Leehom, Bebe Rexha, Charli XCX, Lizzo, Nick Jonas and Pitbull.