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Sarah El-Mahmoud

Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken Review: Dreamworks’ Take On Undersea Lore Is A Tad Shallow

Ruby Gillman still

Considering much of Dreamworks Animation’s early (and continued) success falls on transforming one legendary monster – an ogre – into a reluctant hero we love, the studio’s choice to put their stamp on another misunderstood tall tale with Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken feels on brand. And, with the animation house releasing a lot more sequels than originals as of late, it’s exciting to see the studio take this journey into the unknown.

Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken
(Image credit: Universal)

Release Date: June 30, 2023
Directed By: Kirk DeMicco
Written By: Pam Brady, Brian C. Brown, Elliott DiGuise
Starring: Lana Condor, Toni Collette, Annie Murphy, Sam Richardson, Nicole Byer, Colman Domingo, Will Forte, Liza Koshy, and Jane Fonda
Rating: PG for some action, rude humor and thematic elements
Runtime: 91 minutes

Teenage Kraken is a formulaic and familiar coming-of-age storyline, helped by an endearing take on the identity of krakens and mermaids that audiences have yet to see on the big screen. In other words, the water here is very much fine, but hey, our minds have already been blown in the animation space in 2023 with Across The Spider-Verse, hasn’t it? We’ll let this one swim along in its lukewarmness. 

Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken follows the titular sixteen-year-old, who lives in a seaside town called Oceanside and is regularly asked to hide the fact that she is a blue kraken as she attends high school. Ruby (played by All The Boys’ Lana Condor) is constrained by rules upon rules regarding her being around bodies of water, which really starts to take a blow at her social life with news of her very first prom taking place on a ship. But what really rocks the proverbial boat in Ruby’s life is accidentally falling into the ocean in an awkward encounter with her crush and suddenly expanding into a giant purple kraken. She didn’t know she could do that, and her whole town goes into hysteria (herself included) about the undersea phenomenon arriving to Oceanside. 

Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is an enjoyable family movie to spend 90 minutes with.

Once Ruby becomes a kraken for the first time, she learns of a world of family secrets she was not privy to her entire life. It’s a bit of a mix of Teen Wolf and Princess Diaries, not to mention Teenage Kraken’s plotline is very much reminiscent of last year’s Turning Red from Pixar – right down to some of the mother/daughter dynamics. But hey, literal and physical transformation playing as a metaphor for the emotional discomfort of growing up is something we’ve seen many times throughout the history of storytelling, and Dreamworks' film does find a somewhat original way into it. 

Teenage Kraken is light-hearted and fun throughout, even if the whole thing feels like deja vú. One major highlight of the animated film is Jane Fonda as the “Grandmama” of Ruby Gillman, a Warrior Queen of the Seven Seas who attempts to guide her estranged granddaughter over the head of her own daughter/Ruby's mom (Toni Collette), who has an especially charming arc as a real-estate agent just trying to hide her kraken identity and be “normal.” One major plus of the animated film is the fact that it’s a concisely told 90-minute story that feels particularly geared for families with young children, and in that sense, it delivers. 

Dreamworks puts a fun spin on kraken and mermaid lore, but it could go deeper. 

The best parts of Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken have less to do with the decision to lean on common high-school movie tropes and more in its new ideas about adapting kraken and mermaids for a family audience in a distinct way. The movie has some imaginative concepts regarding the rules of kraken lore in Ruby Gillman’s world, and that’s a fun place for the movie to stay in. The movie also takes a fun swing in terms of making its mermaids “evil,” with Annie Murphy having the most fun spinning the Disney’s The Little Mermaid image of the flowing red-haired legends with her character of Chelsea being the shady “it” girl at school. 

However, at the same time, Teenage Kraken’s lore is underutilized and never reaches its full potential, in part due to the movie’s hour-and-a-half runtime. There are certainly some story opportunities that were missed here at the expense of the Dreamworks movie spending more time on more run-of-the-mill plot devices that audiences have seen again and again in the genre. Not to mention, the one major plot element that one can spot a mile away that is very much key to buying into the movie’s climax. 

Ruby Gillman isn’t breaking any new ground for coming-of-age stories, either. 

Visually, Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is stunning, events unfolding in a creative world that could make for a young child’s next favorite movie. This reviewer isn’t under the impression that something that one thinks is just ok as an adult may become a household staple for families with young kids. Ruby Gillman isn’t a game-changing teen hero we’ve never seen before, but she is relatable in her awkwardness and being young and unassured, and is a positive first titular heroine for the studio. 

Maybe a sequel could strengthen some of the shortcomings of this movie on its own (which is what Dreamworks is clearly setting up here). But, if you’re looking for something new and exciting regarding the “teenage” of it all, Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is perhaps too ordinarily extraordinary. 

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