VERDICT: Familiar and forgettable, this mediocre animated feature is destined to sink to the bottom of the ocean.
Ruby is arriving in U.S. theaters opposite Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, which looks from the outside like a desperate attempt at hoping audiences won’t notice it’s there. (The fact that the two films will be in competition reveals the tentacles of Steven Spielberg, a Dial of Destiny executive producer and a DreamWorks co-founder.) With Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and Elemental still, in theaters, families have much better big-screen options at their disposal.
With a family name that’s a nod to The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Ruby Gillman (voiced by Lana Condor) is a typically quirky teenager with a secret: everyone in her family is actually a Kraken — a mighty, tentacled titan of the deep — but they’re all pretending to be human, telling everyone they’re from Canada in case anyone gets suspicious.
Ruby’s mom Agatha (Toni Collette) forbids Ruby and her younger brother Sam (Blue Chapman) from ever going into the ocean, a seemingly impossible order since they live right by the sea. (It’s a most unusual type of coastal environment where one can seemingly leave dry land and immediately descend into the deepest part of the ocean, but that’s just one of many script issues.)
When Ruby forces herself to take the plunge to rescue her crush Connor (Jaboukie Young-White) from drowning, the sea prompts her to grow in size and acquire gills and tentacles. Eventually, defying her mother’s wishes, she returns to the sea and finds her way to her Grandmama (Jane Fonda, having a great time), the queen of the Kraken, who tells Ruby that she’s a princess and that she must take on the mantle of warrior that Agatha abandoned 15 years ago when she left the ocean to live on land. The fact that we never really find out why Agatha chose dry safety over her destiny as undersea royalty is one of many story threads that Ruby Gillman never bothers to resolve.
It all culminates in the acquisition of a MacGuffin (a magical trident), a battle with a mermaid, and prom night, but by the time the film lurches into its final act, it’s hard to care about any of it. Perhaps the original draft by South Park vet Pam Brady had something to say about adolescence, mothers and daughters, or family expectations, but the final version is a flattened-out bore that wastes a talented cast (which also includes Colman Domingo, Sam Richardson, Will Forte, and Grand Crew’s Echo Kellum and Nicole Byer).
The movie’s one fun idea is that the Krakens have been the heroes all along and that mermaids are evil and monstrous. (“But people love mermaids,” says Ruby, to which Grandmamah haughtily retorts, “Of course they do. People are stupid.”) Kudos to the film for making Ruby’s pal Margot (Liza Koshy) a lesbian in a no-big-deal way, but it would have been nice if Margot’s date were allowed within ten paces of her during the prom-night sequence.
Director Kirk DeMicco and co-director Faryn Pearl can’t do much with this screenplay, but they do at least have some fun with the character design, from the Gillman clan (who are only just barely pulling off their human disguises) to Ruby’s pack of outsider high-school pals. Editor Michelle Mendenhall mercifully keeps the proceedings down to 90 minutes, but spending a little time on some character motivations might have made this seemingly endless movie feel shorter.
For all its potential, Ruby Gillman: Teenage Kraken remains stuck in the shallow end.
- Director: Kirk DeMicco
- Screenwriter: Pam Brady and Brian C. Brown & Elliott DiGuiseppi
- Cast:Lana Condor, Toni Collette, Annie Murphy, Sam Richardson, Liza Koshy, Will Forte, Colman Domingo, Jaboukie Young-White, Blue Chapman, Ramona Young, Eduardo Franco, Jane Fonda
- Producer: Kelly Cooney Cilella
- Executive producer: Mike Mitchell
- Production design: Pierre-Olivier Vincent
- Director of Photography: Jon Gutman
- Editing: Michelle Mendenhall
- Music: Stephanie Economou
- Sound: Randy Thom, sound designer
- Production companies: DreamWorks Animation
- In English, 90 minutes