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Total Film
Total Film
Emily Murray

Lana Condor, Annie Murphy, and more talk dreaming big with Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken

ruby gillman teenage kraken

Having grown up watching animated classics such as Shrek and Kung Fu Panda, actor Lana Condor has always wanted to work with DreamWorks. "It was very integral to my childhood, having a huge impact on who I am today – they are still my comfort movies," she says, speaking to GamesRadar+. "And this was also a chance to create a brand new world with it being an original IP – we were afforded the luxury to build something DreamWorks has never really done before."

The result is dazzling adventure Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken, the story of an awkward teenager (Condor) who finds out that she is the descendant of a warrior kraken queen (Jane Fonda), a discovery that naturally throws Ruby's world into chaos. As Condor mentions, it's not based on any pre-existing material, therefore presenting something completely new amidst the sea of countless sequels, spin-offs, and remakes. 

Original films are so important for animation studios

This was also part of the draw for director Kirk DeMicco who admits that he may be addicted to making original stories. "I might be crazy as I have made three of them in ten years [this follows The Croods and Vivo], but I love discovery!" he laughs. "Original films are so important for animation studios as by the time these movies are done, over 400-500 people would have worked on them. For every artist working on the film, there is the opportunity to pour their imagination into it. We didn't know what a giant kraken would look like or what the music would sound like, and those mysteries are exciting to uncover with your crew."

The DreamWorks tradition

(Image credit: DreamWorks)

Whilst Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken may be a new IP, it follows in the footsteps of other DreamWorks films, putting a fun twist on a well-known myth. Flipping the script, this time around the krakens are the ocean's sworn and kind protectors, whilst the mermaids are power-hungry, cackling villains. As DeMicco emphasises, it's clear this tale comes from the same studio who showed us that ogres can have hearts of gold: "It's in the tradition of DreamWorks to subvert tropes and expectations, so we took this monster that throughout history, since Scandinavian folklore, has only been portrayed as one thing only – the ender of ends. Adding in the mermaids too, we could look at both mythologies – the sirens who were not to be messed with and the krakens who have been the victim of a very bad PR crisis, we couldn't find one image of them that was attractive. But they could be beautiful and strong here."

Listen to the story, everything needs to be true to it

Not only does the film follow this DreamWorks tradition, but like with the movies before it, Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken has its own distinct visual identity. Unlike with other animation studios, there is no house style at DreamWorks which presents the filmmakers with the chance to let their imaginations really run wild. DeMicco explains: "As artists we are always looking to try out different things and this film gave people the chance to flex muscles they couldn't use on other movies. And because the krakens are octopus-like, we could do really fluid, bendy animation which was really fun. We did push it and it's more stylized than other DreamWorks films, but we needed to sell this beautiful depiction of elegant krakens. It's very balletic and that all came from the team being able to develop an animation style unique to this picture and story. Throughout we always said 'listen to the story, everything needs to be true to it,' and that's what allowed this style to evolve."

Finding yourself

(Image credit: DreamWorks)

Whilst the film does explore the world of mythological sea creatures, at the heart it is a very human story about trying to find a sense of belonging and who you really are. It's something that we can all connect to, with Condor adding this is true for all ages, not just teenagers: "I think the journey of self-discovery lasts a lifetime – I don't know if I will ever fully know exactly who I am, I'm different today to who I was yesterday. But through life experience, taking risks, going out of my comfort zone, that has only enriched me – which is a major theme in Ruby's story, she occupies space she never thought she would. It's exciting to see her grow in the film, step into her truer self, embrace her power, and whilst she makes mistakes we learn the most from that."

Condor's co-star Annie Murphy (who recently appeared in Black Mirror) agrees, telling GamesRadar+: "Reading the script I was delighted by how much of my little, growing up self I saw in Ruby. When I was that age I didn't feel comfortable in my skin and didn't fit in anywhere, which is a very universal experience. There are lots of people like Ruby out there who will grow into themselves, learn to love themselves – I hope this movie shows kids going through it that they are not alone in this."

Toil and trouble

(Image credit: DreamWorks)

Although Murphy may relate to Ruby, in the film she is the voice of the villainous Chelsea, a mermaid who is as sinister as she is alluring. Positioned as Ruby's polar opposite, Chelsea easily charms her way into people's lives, but underneath the glamour are malicious intentions. As Murphy states, Chelsea is "fully straight up evil" meaning the actor couldn't wait to embrace her wicked side! 

And now that she's had a taste, Murphy wants more, adding: "I loved playing Chelsea as I haven't played an evil character before and it felt really good. I had a lot of fun leaning into the nastiness, maybe too much fun, it felt very therapeutic. I really would love to play a non-animated villain one day as I've played a lot of nice characters, which I've loved doing, but I want to see how evil feels on. Working on an animated project is so different to live-action as even if you are in a comedy, you have to be grounded and natural to a certain degree. But here, I went into a voice booth in my pyjamas with no make-up, giving it 195% right out of the gate – all over the top, big, and weird. Instead of the directors being like 'what have we done' they asked for more, it was a good space to try things out." 

I had a lot of fun leaning into the nastiness, maybe too much fun

Chelsea may indeed be the villain of the piece but upon first impressions she doesn't appear that way, instead strutting in with confident energy that really reminded me of Murphy's beloved Schitt's Creek character Alexis. The actor laughs when I mention that I was ready for Chelsea to start singing her own version of the absolute banger that is 'A Little Bit Alexis', explaining that she too sees the parallels between the two characters: "I owe Schitt's Creek a big thank you for getting me this job. There is certainly an overlap as like with Alexis, Chelsea has this effortless confidence and is immediately likeable. But, there isn't a drop of evil in Alexis which is where they part ways."

A bright future

(Image credit: DreamWorks)

In fact, Murphy's despicable mermaid is so evil Ruby has to draw on the support of her fellow krakens, including Grandmamah (Fonda) and mum Agatha (Toni Collette), who join her in battle. We therefore see three generations of women fighting alongside each other in the film which is still rare to see on-screen, especially in animation as Condor points out: "I was just told recently that this is the first DreamWorks film where the titular character is female, which is so crazy and a pinch me moment. I really loved the multigenerational aspect too as I feel we give a very realistic version of mother-daughter relationships. In animation they are mostly either perfect or really bad, never in-between even though that's real. Ruby and her mum love each other but they also fight, which is totally normal – I appreciated the honesty there and it's the same with Agatha and Grandmamah."

Don't be afraid to be yourself and go big, take risks!

Of course this is just the start of Ruby's journey as having just discovered her roots and powers, there is still much for the young kraken to learn. Director DeMicco responds enthusiastically when we ask him about plans for a sequel, stating that he already has ideas: "I hope that the family message resonates in a way that audiences will want to see further installments of Ruby's story, as well as that of her family and friends. We created lots of monsters for her to fight so hopefully one day she will wrestle a leviathan!" Condor is also keen to reprise her role, concluding that Ruby has plenty of room to grow: "We leave her in her most confident state but we are just scratching the surface of what she is capable of, I'd love to see Ruby really exercise her power. I hope that this is just the start and it becomes a classic in the way Shrek etc. did – that people of all shapes, sizes, ages, and identities can see themselves in this film. Don't be afraid to be yourself and go big, take risks!"

Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is out in cinemas now. For more great animated movies, check out our top 25 recommendations.

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