Pitbull takes on 'UglyDolls', bullying and self-acceptance

Los Angeles (AFP) –


An animated film about misfit toys seems an unlikely fit for a smooth reggaeton rapper, but Pitbull is front and center in "UglyDolls" and he loves the message it sends.

The film, which opens Friday in North America, tells the story of toys who have been discarded for not being "perfect" -- and the resolve of one doll, Moxy (singer Kelly Clarkson), to be loved by a child someday.

"Perfection doesn't exist and what I want for young people, for kids, is for them to appreciate what it is to be different, that it's something good," Pitbull, who plays UglyDog in the film, told AFP in an interview.

Pitbull -- real name, Armando Christian Perez -- is joined in the cast by a host of other musicians, including country star Blake Shelton, pop futurist Janelle Monae and singers Bebe Rexha and Charli XCX.

It's not his first foray on the big screen. The Cuban-American also did voice work for the 2013 animated film "Epic," and his music has been featured on soundtracks of major films such as "Aquaman."

But "UglyDolls," the first animated feature from STX Entertainment, dovetails nicely with Pitbull's work to fight bullying and support educational initiatives in Miami's Little Havana, where he grew up.

"If what people are saying about you (online) is affecting you, put down the phone. Why even read it?" says the 38-year-old Grammy-winning singer and producer.

The singer, who has 7.5 million Instagram followers, says he's against what he sees as an obsession with social media, especially among young people.

"With social media, we're only seeing followers and likes," he says.

"Forget about that, we have to be leaders and be unique -- that's the important thing. Between filters and Photoshop, we end up looking like people we aren't."

- 'I keep it light' -

Pitbull -- known for his fitted suits, smooth bald pate and showy sunglasses -- has put out 12 albums, done several collaborations with the likes of Jennifer Lopez, won a Grammy and a Latin Grammy, and performed the official song of the 2014 World Cup.

But his younger years were not always easy -- he doesn't go far into specifics, but he has talked in the past about tough times, and by age 17, he was selling drugs in Miami.

"Music, thank God (and thanks to the audience), has been an escape for me. Without it, I'd be involved in something else entirely," he said in the interview, liberally mixing English and Spanish.

Now, the rapper known as Mr Worldwide wants people "to dance, be joyful, escape."

"I keep it light," he says, referring to hits like "El Taxi," "Bon Bon," "Fireball" and "Don't Stop The Party."

- Mom knows best -

Those involved with "UglyDolls" hope its message of acceptance will spread far and wide.

Pitbull says he remembers advice from his mother, whom he also credits with setting him on a new path after his rough past, about dealing with kids who were making fun of his "clown nose" when he was six years old.

"You're going to go to school, you're going to grab your nose and go 'honk, honk' and you're going to tell them that you're a clown -- and they won't tease you anymore," he recalled her saying.

"And I've applied that advice throughout my whole life: as soon as somebody says something about me, I say 'That's true,' and that's the end of it."