Director: Kirk DeMicco Screenwriter: Pam Brady, Brian C. Brown, Elliott DiGuiseppi Cast: Lana Condor, Toni Collette, Annie Murphy, Colman Domingo, Jaboukie Young-White, Liza Koshy, Sam Richardson, Jane Fonda Distributor: Universal Pictures Running Time: 91 min. MPAA: PG

In the same way this film’s central character exists between two worlds, Ruby Gillman is a film that feels caught between Dreamworks’s innovations and modern animation’s simplistic reliability for kids. It perhaps doesn’t help that the film opens with Dreamworks’s latest logo opening, revealing their pedigree of such films as Kung-Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon. This film is not in that same league, but it’s also not too shabby for trying to be a cute and eccentric coming-of-age fantasy comedy.

Ruby (Lana Condor) is easily relatable as a teenager with a fast and frantic life in her seaside town. She comes from a family of monsters that have concealed their monster attributes around humans, though it seems tough to do with their blue skin. Thankfully, she lives in a vibrant society of silly people willing to believe her excuse of being Canadian. Her mother, Agatha (Toni Collette), also wants to keep her away from the sea, but that’s a tall order for a teen living near the sea where the upcoming prom will be on a boat.

As if peer pressure, panic attacks, and asking out her crush to the prom weren’t tough enough, Ruby soon learns she comes from a long line of Krakens. She learns the hard way by transforming into a giant monster, struggling to conceal her size and tentacles. With mom offering little more than methods of concealment, Ruby ventures underwater to get some Kraken training for her grandmother (Jane Fonda). She even makes a new friend, Chelsea (Colman Domingo), a mermaid who inspires fear within the Kraken community for the long-standing feud between Krakens and mermaids.

So, a lot is happening in this movie, both thematically and visually. The town is teeming with unique character designs, coming in all shapes and colors, so it never feels like a crowd is all one asset. The story bounces between being about growing up, being a woman, the immigration experience, social pressures, and masking. While that swirl of strong messages is ambitious, it always felt like each aspect gets cut off by either another development or the next moment of slapstick. The dialogue and behaviors try to distinguish between exaggeration and accuracy to create a relatable atmosphere. While this staging has a solid foundation setup, it rarely takes off with this style, where it sometimes feels more clinical than playful.

The film falls back on a few too many expected elements to carry its teenage tale. Sam Richardson and Will Forte show up in comedic supporting roles but only deliver their expected and softened silliness. The youthful lingo and tech are slung around in this film with little distinction from the vibrant styles of stuff like Ms. Marvel or Turning Red. There’s also a bit of a mixed message in how the film tries to pull off so many themes that it might’ve stumbled into one about stereotypes being true when looking at the legacy of Krakens vs. mermaids.

Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken isn’t a trailblazer like its contemporaries of similar coming-of-age animated movies, but it’s plucky and sweet enough to be a suitable family film for a Saturday matinee. It moves fast enough to keep the kids entertained, features a buffet of decent messages to please the parents, and is just a playful film with colorful and eccentric animation. For also being a film about womanhood, it’ll likely garner comparisons to Pixar’s Turning Red. While this film isn’t nearly as compelling, hilarious, or uniquely animated, an underdog quality makes it enduring enough to feel a little something for a teenage girl who transforms into a monster and shoots lasers from her eyes.

You may also like