THE STORY – Ruby Gillman is a sweet and awkward high school student who discovers she’s a direct descendant of the warrior Kraken queens. The Kraken is sworn to protect the oceans of the world against the vain, power-hungry mermaids. Destined to inherit the throne from her commanding grandmother, Ruby must use her newfound powers to protect those she loves most.
THE CAST – Lana Condor, Toni Collette, Annie Murphy, Colman Domingo, Jaboukie Young-White, Liza Koshy, Sam Richardson & Jane Fonda
THE TEAM – Kirk DeMicco (Director), Pam Brady, Brian C. Brown & Elliott DiGuiseppi (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 91 Minutes
Krakens have long been the feared monsters of the sea, yet they’ve rarely shown up in film history. Now, it’s their time to shine in “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken.” However, the Krakens are woefully misunderstood here by the story’s characters, while mermaids are the true underwater terrors. This cute twist on mythology creates a modern coming-of-age story in “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” about wanting to fit in and find one’s place. The imperfect but well-meaning film packs plenty of heart and laughs but ultimately feels too familiar.
The Gillmans are a typical family living in the seaside town of Oceanside, except for the fact that they’re secretly sea creatures. Sixteen-year-old Ruby (Lana Condor) blends in with her human classmates by hiding her gills under turtlenecks and tells everyone that her family is Canadian (why else would they have blue skin?). According to her parents, the family left the ocean to stay safe from the dangerous monsters within; as they say, it’s better to hide, survive, and stay out of the sea. Ruby just wants to be a typical teenager but feels weird and out of place. She has a solid group of friends, loves math, and has a crush on a boy named Connor (Jaboukie Young-White). Just as she’s about to finally ask Connor to prom, he’s knocked into the ocean, leaving Ruby no choice but to dive in after him, turning into a giant Kraken once she’s underwater and putting her secret at risk.
This premise might sound a bit familiar, as the plot is nearly identical to Disney-Pixar’s “Turning Red,” which came out just over a year ago. Dueling movies with similar premises are nothing new to the cinematic landscape, though these two movies are inconveniently close, leaving “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” feeling stale and dispensable. Even so, there’s a reason both films feature teenage girls turning into monsters: this is a perfect metaphor for the anxiety and awkwardness many teenagers experience in high school. Who doesn’t remember feeling like the other kids in school might discover their weirdness, secrets, and monsters? We all want to fit in and feel normal, even if we don’t feel we are. Unlike “Turning Red,” “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” is distinctly modern, featuring smartphones and social media, all exacerbating the desire to blend in.
Will the abundance of internet humor age well? Probably not, but much of it works well for today’s modern moviegoing audience. Ruby’s dad, Arthur (Colman Domingo), runs an ASMR ship-in-a-bottle video channel while an old sailor live-streams his attempts to capture Ruby in Kraken form. These fast-paced and witty jokes give a much-needed fresh edge to the unoriginal story. As with much of the film, the humor is also a mixed bag as it’s overly obvious and delivered as if in a Disney Channel sitcom.
As Ruby discovers more about her family history and what her mother (Toni Collette) hid from her, she tries to fix everything, eventually becoming entangled in an ancient battle for control of the ocean. The Kaiju-esque action is a blast to watch, even if the animation is hit or miss. Much of the movie looks quite good at times, with a stylized town and colorful inhabitants throughout. Unfortunately, the glowing flesh of the giant Krakens gives them an odd look that almost looks unfinished in some way. It’s a strange choice, especially for the titular characters, and doesn’t leave the impression one wants to have watching an animated film from a major studio.
The existence of more films tackling anxiety, puberty, and the universal desire to fit in is a good thing for today’s society to properly educate their children. “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” is bright and flashy enough for younger kids, while older children might see themselves in Ruby’s struggles. It’s a film for a generation facing more anxiety than ever before. Even so, a less predictable story could’ve helped that message better take root. Unfortunately, even if its heart is in the right place, this isn’t up there with the best of Dreamworks Animation.