Ruby is your typical, teenage wallflower trying to get through high school without attracting too much attention. However, her reasons for wanting to avoid notice are anything but typical. (See the title of the film for details!) When she finds out there is even more being hidden about her family than she knew, she sets off to find out the truth about her heritage, while avoiding mom, mermaids, and that cute boy in her class along the way.

Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is a beautiful looking film, featuring a predictable plot, some irritating characters, and a too-easily-wrapped-up ending… that your kids will probably really enjoy.

As much as I usually harp on story being the most important aspect of a film, I can forgive the formulaic narrative here because, despite there being no surprises, it is fairly well told. But some of these characters are so tedious and annoying and drag the whole thing down! Ruby’s classmates sound nothing like kids. And I mean that in both ways it can be taken. The voice actors playing them sound much much older than the age they’re supposed to be portraying. And the kids seem to be speaking the way clueless adults think nauseatingly hip high schoolers talk these days. (Example: within the first five minutes of the film two different scenes have characters discussing a “post-colonial patriarchal construct”. Ugh!)

If you can get past that, and thankfully the worst of these characters don’t figure as heavily in the latter half of the film, there’s a decent enough movie here for kids. While adults will see every story beat coming a nautical mile away, there is a somewhat surprising message about kids not always knowing best. And a fun secondary plot line involving a fisherman provides some nice comic relief.

The animation is lively, colorful, and engaging, and there is a lot to look at. The cityscapes are full of easter eggs that are fun to spot. The under the sea world is a bit bland, until we get to where the krakens live, where things are much more appealing. The character designs are a bit hit or miss. The humans and most of the sea creatures are interesting, though some seem like they were thrown together near the end of production.

While I can’t hum a single measure of Stephanie Economou’s score from memory now, while watching I really enjoyed it. Two songs released with the movie, This Moment and Rise, fit the tone and message of the story well but are otherwise your average by-the-numbers movie pop songs.

While several of the voice actors in the film were irritating enough to deserve mention near the top of my review, I should point out there were several nice performances. Lana Condor as the title character was outstanding and really anchored the entire movie. Toni Collette and Colman Domingo paired well as the controlled and steady parents of the their sometimes manic daughter. And Jane Fonda was kind of fun as Grandmamah.

There are a lot of movies out there that should be much better than they are. And I’m the first to get upset when I feel a film isn’t reaching its potential. Other films are just animated money grabs, trying to make a quick buck without expending much effort, barely worth the time to write about. This isn’t either of those. It’s just a movie that sets out to be entertaining without trying to be too ambitious. And it basically meets its goals. Feel free to release Ruby Gillman the next time you’re looking for something diverting for your little ones.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken
DreamWorks Animation
June 30, 2023
91 minutes
rated PG
directed by Kirk DeMicco