A shy adolescent learns that she comes from a fabled royal family of legendary sea krakens and that her destiny lies in the depths of the waters, which is bigger than she could have ever imagined. (from IMDB.com)
With how disappointing Disney has been with their family offerings as of late, DreamWorks Animation has still been pretty reliable. The studio has been far from perfect over the years, for sure, but with franchises like How To Train Your Dragon, Shrek, Puss in Boots and Kung Fu Panda, they’ve become an animation studio that has been able to rightly compete with Disney and Pixar. So when I heard about Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken – which admittedly, didn’t look too exciting from its character design alone – I was mildly interested merely because it’s a DreamWorks production. Sadly, it seems as though DreamWorks is more than willing to follow in its competition’s misguided footsteps.
Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken kind of gets off to a promising start, but it becomes quickly evident that we’ve seen this all before. Ruby Gillman feels eerily familiar as it progresses. Whether it’s having similar story beats or traits to movies like Luca, Turning Red, The Little Mermaid or Monsters vs Aliens, very little about this movie helps it stand out on its own. For starters, the story revolves around the Gillman’s – a family of humanoid krakens – who have been hiding amongst humans for some time now. They try to pass their obvious physical differences off under the guise of being “from Canada,” but it’s hard to believe, right out of the gate, that people wouldn’t notice these blue-skinned people aren’t human. (And maybe that’s part of the joke, really.) Following this year’s live action remake of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, the movie feels like a semi-retread of that story, even offering an Ariel-lookalike as a mermaid “frenemy” for Ruby Gillman. Ruby also discovers the “monstrous” changes to her body upon exposure to water, as she grows into a gigantic kaiju-sized kraken — much like Mei turning into a giant red panda in Turning Red. I can’t even begin to express how disappointing Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is – especially from a studio like DreamWorks.
Also much like last year’s Turning Red, Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken feels like a movie almost exclusively crafted for a young female audience. Ruby even has three close best friends, much like Mei does in Disney’s movie, and the tight-knit group of gals – and, in this case, one totally emo guy – does its best to be as inclusive as possible. In Ruby’s group, we meet Margot who, when they start talking about prom, immediately exclaims that another girl had asked her out to prom and she said yes. Later, we see her donning a small rainbow bowtie and then dancing with her girlfriend who is dressed to fit the stereotype. While DreamWorks Animation is no stranger to promoting same-sex lifestyles (it dates all the way back to 2004 with Shark Tale not-so-subtly promoting that message), it still surprises and disappoints me to see them handling the subject matter so casually as if it’s nothing but completely normal. Yeah, I get that “it’s 2023” and that’s where society is progressing (or is it regressing?), but just because more are accepting it, embracing it and promoting it, doesn’t mean it’s right.
With all of that said, Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken has its amusing moments, and Ruby Gillman is a likeable heroine, but it really doesn’t help its case that it all seems so familiar. The characters and animation are passionate and certainly ardent in nature, but I really can’t recall a single moment that felt original or unique; nothing really stood out to define this movie. The animation is fine, but the character designs are bizarre. It almost has a claymation style at times, but other times is just reminiscent of something like Yo Gabba Gabba. It’s weird. (“Kraken” makes me think of Clash of the Titans or Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. The designs here are anything but that.) It also seemed like a really odd choice to state within the story’s kraken lore that only the female krakens could grow to a kaiju size. That’s right, the men cannot. I think it’s great to have stories that can help young girls not feel alone or freakish as they grow into womanhood, but I’m getting a little tired of these same stories being used to seemingly undermine male characters at the same time. (I’d be inclined not to “pick on” a little story like this Ruby Gillman for this, but we’re living in a social climate right now where it’s being encouraged for men – straight or otherwise – to wear dresses. It’s a truly bizarre time to be alive, people.) Thankfully Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken doesn’t go so far as to full-on belittle men (like this summer’s runaway hit, Barbie, did) — after all, Ruby is obsessed with a boy named Connor — but like Turning Red, it’s a movie almost expressly aimed at a tween girl audience, and after studios have churned out so many great all-ages and boy-or-girl -friendly stories, Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is a bit of a surprise to find alienating its audience.
The themes focus heavily on fitting in to society and trying to be true to yourself, even if it means standing out. It’s a fine enough theme, but it’s just about been done to death as of late. While Turning Red was unashamedly about tween girls entering puberty, Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is slightly less obviously about this, too. Added into the mix is some tension between the teenage Ruby and her mother, Agatha, as well as the broken relationship between Agatha and her mother. There’s also a subplot about the rivalry between the kraken and mermaids, and that ends up coming into play in the film’s climax. There’s a lot to unpack with the theme of Ruby wanting to fit in among humans, but the bottomline is that the idea, by now, is exhausted, and I was surprised to find myself completely bored by the movie’s midpoint.
The content for Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is very much PG, mostly because of language and the aforementioned pushing of the same-sex lifestyle agenda. There is no direct profanity, but Ruby says “Son of an angler fish!” and another character emphatically shouts “I’m a mother-flippin’ mermaid!” (and later just “I’m a flipping mermaid!”). There is some action in the movie, but there are no deaths, and nothing graphic is shown. There is some comedic violence, but there are also some fight scenes with kaiju-sized sea monsters brawling. Scary imagery isn’t common, but I would think some of the littler viewers might find the monsters somewhat scary — especially when Ruby is first turning into her kaiju size.
Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken in no way lives up to the quality we’ve come to expect from DreamWorks Animation (for example, last year’s The Bad Guys was far superior). Young girls are likely to appreciate this most out of any kind of audience, but those who have a soft spot for all things pertaining to sea creatures may also find something to like about Ruby Gillman.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 9/25/23)
Blu-Ray Special Features
BONUS FEATURES on BLU-RAYTM, DVD AND DIGITAL for your collection:
- DELETED SCENES WITH INTROS – Introductions by Co-Director Faryn Pearl
- WALK TO SCHOOL
- CRAB ‘N SKATE
- OCEANSIDE DRAWING GUIDE – Head of story, Glenn Harmon, will teach everyone how to draw Ruby Gillman in her teenager and kraken forms, Grandmamah, Chelsea, and mermaid Chelsea.
- RUBY GILLMAN
- KRAKEN RUBY
- CHELSEA VAN DER ZEE
- MERMAID CHELSEA
- MAKE YOUR OWN AQUARIUM – With a few simple products and a little imagination, you can bring the undersea world into your own home.
- WELL OF SEAS
- SQUAD SOLIDARITY: ADVENTURES IN ADR
- THE KRAKEN: MYTH OR MONSTER – In this animated piece narrated by Lana Condor and Annie Murphy, we dive deep into the mysteries of krakens and discover how stories of these mythical beasts have evolved over hundreds and hundreds of years.
- MEET THE GILLMAN CAST – Meet the cast behind your favorite RUBY GILLMAN, TEENAGE KRAKEN characters and discover what they loved about lending their voices to this aquatic adventure!
- THE KRAKEN KREW: MEET THE HUMANS BEHIND THE GILLMANS
- PROM STORIES – Ruby’s greatest wish was to attend prom with her friends and crush Connor! Here, the cast of the movie share their own prom stories and explain how they would design a promposal.
- SUPER SEA GIRL BESTIES – If you can see it, you can be it! In this piece we meet the talented women involved in the making of RUBY GILLMAN, TEENAGE KRAKEN.
- FEATURE COMMENTARY – with Director Kirk DeMicco, Co-Director Faryn Pearl, Producer Kelly Cooney Cilella, Head of Character Animation Carlos Fernandez Puertolas and Head of Cinematography, Layout Jon Gutman.
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: When Connor’s name is mentioned at the breakfast table, Sam turns around and rubs his hands along his back in that age-old joking way that makes it look like he’s holding and kissing someone; Margot says Kayla asked her to the prom and she said “yes,” meaning that Margot – a girl – is going to the prom with another girl, Kayla (and Margot is very excited about this); When Chelsea appears and people act enthusiastic towards her, we see a little girl holding up a sign at her that says “Marry Me!”; As a realtor, Agatha shows a house to a man and woman who aren’t wearing wedding rings, but the woman is pregnant; We see Margot and Kayla dancing with each other at the prom. Margot clearly has a rainbow bow-tie on.
Vulgarity/Language: 1 “Son of an angler fish!”; A character emphatically says “I’m a mother-flippin’ mermaid!” and later “I’m a flipping mermaid!”
Violence: Sam throws a dodgeball that knocks over every kid and then the teacher, too; Sam and Ruby smack each other; A confetti gun goes off in Connor’s face. He trips on his skateboard and falls off a boat. He’s knocked out and begins sinking down in the water. Ruby then jumps in to save him and starts to drown, too; Ruby grows huge through a library building, causing lots of destruction; Agatha accidentally hits her brother with her car, who is under a pile of leaves on the road; Ruby punches her uncle, not knowing who he is; A fisherman harpoons Ruby and ties her up. He shoots another harpoon at her. Chelsea stops it in her hand and cuts Ruby free; We see video of a fisherman seeing kaiju-sized Ruby and panicking. He falls off his boat; A crab jumps on a TV reporter’s face and she runs around screaming; Gordon accidentally shoots a harpoon into the air and descends right back on him, embedding in his forehead. He removes it and is perfectly fine; Kaiju Ruby throws a ship wreckage into a portal and it bounces around and is thrown back out as a small piece of trash; Ruby makes herself mad so her laser eyes come out. They do and she struggles to control them; Ruby wakes up to her alarm and shoots it with her laser eyes; Their pet Nessie jumps on the fisherman’s face; Gordon throws Sam really high into the air and he falls straight down on Gordon’s head, sinking his head into his body. Sam’s head then pops out instead of Gordon’s, freaking onlookers out; Ruby grows big and crashes through the house; A mermaid stabs Ruby with the trident; A character punches their fist through the side of a house and out the front of it; Arthur slaps the fisherman; Ruby and a sea monster have a big kaiju fight; A wave of water crashes into the prom boat but Ruby grabs and saves it; Two kaiju join together to blow up the trident.