Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken
By: Adam Freed
Ruby Gillman has a problem. A few problems to be honest. The titular protagonist of Dreamworks Animation's coming of age teen dramedy is stuck in a film being sold to young children. Had Dreamworks followed the path paved by last year’s delightful Pixar surprise Turning Red, and embraced, rather than rejected marketing an animated film to teens, this disconnect could have been avoided entirely. The shame of Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is that the concept, setting and animation are all quite strong. The studio failed this project when it insisted on making what could’ve been an inventive and fun teen film into a story for an audience far too young to connect to its meaningful themes.
If the concept of a teenage kraken film prompts a head scratch, think Teen Wolf (1985) meets Turning Red meets She’s All That (1999). Ruby Gillman amounts to a modern oceanic tale of self discovery. Common coming of age themes are wrapped in a visually inviting exploration that has its tentacles split between Ruby’s two worlds, her human world and the deepest depths of the ocean. Ruby’s human populated high school storyline allows for the relatable teenage conundrum between wanting to be both invisible and simultaneously seen by that special someone. Ruby’s journey of discovery however leads her into the forbidden fathoms, torn by an age-old war waged between the misunderstood kraken and a group of human preferred menacing mermaids. What is painfully obvious within this conceptual dichotomy is how much depth is available and how shallow the final presentation feels.
Portions of the tonally confused Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken will resonate with older audiences. The vocal talents of Jane Fonda and Toni Collette feature quite nicely here. In its strongest moment, this film bonds three generations of Gillmans to remind of the necessity of mutual generational understanding, a theme that is worthy of surfacing beyond only in the film's climactic sequence. Another close miss is a soundtrack that never quite reaches becoming memorable, a cardinal sin within the tween / teen market that could’ve been enough to sink its teeth into a more adoring audience. Had Dreamworks fulfilled the promise of Ruby’s concept, the Olivia Rodrigos of the world may have gladly lined up for a 45 second feature to an adoring group of fans. As is, the soundtrack, like the film, will likely sink into the dark depths of the animated forgotten.