Original animation is in a pretty bad place. And by “Original” I mean stories that have not originated from a well-known piece of media like being a sequel or a spin-off or a book. The last original animated movie to do reasonably well was Encanto in 2021, but even that only took off when it hit Disney+. And it’s not that the quality of these films have been entirely lackluster (Marcel the Shell With Shoes On was my favorite film of 2022). It’s just that people don’t want to take a risk with a film that they take their family to, I suppose.
Which brings us to Dreamworks’ latest: Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken. Ruby, as the title suggests, is indeed a teenage Kraken, the mythical sea creature that is known for sinking ships and wreaking havoc on unwary wayfarers. However, Krakens apparently aren’t bad and have been misunderstood and maligned throughout the centuries. Somehow Ruby and her Kraken family have moved to dry land in a seaside town and are passing off as blue humans under the guise of being from Canada. Ruby herself goes to high school and has a group of misfit friends that she feels at home with but she still can’t seem to fit in.
She is at odds with her mom about an ominously firm rule that forbids her from ever getting into the ocean (which they never explain why they still live next to the sea) until one day she heroically submerges in order to save her boy crush. The result is that she grows to a giant scale and eventually has to figure out why.
The plot of this film is pretty unoffensive in that there aren’t many holes in the story. However, it also never doesn’t rise to any emotion that audiences have come to expect from this type of time, despite it trying to, especially in the third act.
The main theme of the story seems to be dealing with identity and heritage and finding ones own path, but also of being misunderstood through stereotype or by ones own family. The problem is that it never really hits any of this home in a significant. It also doesn’t help that these are the same things in the vastly superior Elemental, which was released just weeks ago.
The film is funny in parts and the animated is fairly decent in others (especially the underwater scenes). But again, this film seems to work very hard to stay in the lukewarm waters where it is safe and bland. It’s like a cookie that your grandma would give you: it’s edible and almost satisfying, yet would never go out of your way to buy.
The voice acting is fine, with Will Forte, Tony Collette, and Jane Fonda offering their celebrity to the project. I’m a bit over Jane Fonda playing a wise old woman (she was the dragon in Skydance’s Lucky on Apple TV+) and think that studios should consider looking elsewhere.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is a decent film. It is neither great nor bad. Your kids will probably like it, but it is the weakest Dreamworks offering in a few years, despite it having a lot of potential.