Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken (2023) Review




DreamWorks Animation Studios has had their ups and downs in their releases, finding their cartoon endeavors of a mixed variety from the highest highs to the mediocre lows. The studio has produced some of the finest (and most memorable) animated films such as ShrekKung Fu Panda and, How to Train Your Dragon; finding each one to have their own unique personal visual aesthetics between cinematic storytelling and lovable characters. Even some of their own “stand alone” endeavors such as Shark’s TaleOver the Hedge, and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie have had celebration of garnishing praise from critics, moviegoers, and box office results. However, DreamWorks has had its fair share of unfavorable releases, with some of the most forgetful features such as HomeBee Movie, and Turbo. Perhaps the instability of their releases rest upon the decision of this comes down to its overall studio distribution, with DreamWorks Animation being handled by several studios, including DreamWorks Pictures (from inception to 2005), then Paramount Pictures from 2006-2012, then 20th Century Fox from 2013-2017, and now (currently) under Universal Pictures. Regardless, it looks like DreamWorks is struggling to find a proper footing with its “hit or miss” releases. Now, after two highly praised and profitable releases in 2022 (The Bad Guys and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish), DreamWorks Animation Studios and directors Kirk DeMicco and Fayrn Pearl prepare to release the latest animated feature film with the movie Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken. Does this cartoon motion picture goes deep enough to generate excitement and heart or does it merely scratch the surface of a shallow endeavor?


Ruby Gillman (Lana Condor) is a young kraken, who is living on the surface human world in the community of Oceanside, where she enjoys friendships with her pals Margot (Liza Koshy), Bliss (Ramona Young), and Trevin (Eduardo Franco) and carries a passionate crush on fellow high school student Connor (Jaboukie Young-White). However, Ruby’s mother, Agatha (Toni Collette), is well aware of the Kraken reputation amongst humans, instructing her daughter to pass herself as a Canadian human, along with her dad, Arthur (Colman Domingo), and her little brother, Sam (Blue Chapman), as well as keeping a low profile and to never go into the nearby sea. With the school prom drawing near, Ruby makes a critical error when trying to ask Connor to the event, knocking him into the ocean, soon following into the waters to rescue him. In the water, Ruby is transformed into a giant monster, letting her inner Kraken power emerge. Frightened, the young girl tries to process this newfound discovery she never knew about, soon receiving help from Brill (Sam Richardson), her long-lost uncle she never knew, who takes her to meet her Grandmamah (Jane Fonda), a warrior queen of the Seven Seas and her grandmother / Agatha’s mother. Learning more about her family’s lineage of royalty and the Kraken’s history against the nefarious mermaids, Ruby is looking to bridge a gap between her mom and her grandmom, which leads her to find a magical lost trident, joined by Chelsea (Annie Murphy), a popular girl who is looking for help from the young Kraken. However, Ruby soon discovers that some intentions are ambiguous and that some secrets are kept from her for a reason.


Borrowing my lines from my review of The Bad Guys, I believe that DreamWorks Animation has been going through a series of ups and downs. When it was first beginning, I believe it to be an animated powerhouse, with the company rivaling Pixar and other Disney movies, especially after the “House of Mouse’s” second renaissance era of the 90s. Movie releases like ShrekKung Fu PandaShark’s Tale, and How to Train Your Dragon I would deem to be some of the top-tier releases that the studio had to offer from the late 90s to the late 2000s era, with some branching out to deliver solid sequels (i.e. Shrek 2Kung Fu Panda 2 and How to Train Your Dragon 2). Heck, even some of its non-3D animated cartoon features (more traditional style 2D animation) like The Road to El Dorado and Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas proved to be quite effective endeavors that barred fruit and popularity amongst its viewers. That being said, DreamWorks did start to show signs of decline sometime after early 2010s, with several releases that I found either poorly done and / or mediocre endeavors. Films like Bee MovieHome, and Turbo (the ones I mention above) are just terrible in my opinion and are just pretty “meh”. As stated, it was probably due to the studio’s distribution handling several times over that caused this influx of popular movies releases. And don’t get me started on all the various spin-off TV shows that were done with such “blech” animation. Yet, despite those ups and downs, DreamWorks still has managed (as of late) delivered some good animated features in the late 2010s / early 2020s era, with releases like How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden WorldAbominable, and Croods: A New Age. Then let us not forget their 2022 releases, with The Bad Guys and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish; both films I loved and showcased plenty of new and fresh style from the studio. To that end, I say that DreamWorks Animation Studios has had a bumpy road through the past two decades, but has endured and produced a good decent number of animated features and doesn’t show to be stopping any time soon.

This brings me back around to talking about Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken, a 2023 animated film and the latest film to be released by DreamWorks. To be quite honest, I really didn’t hear much about this movie and sort of went “under the radar” for quite some time. There was (if I can recall) little to no marketing campaign made for this movie, with the only exception being one or two movie trailers that were released as well as a few TV spots promos. From them alone, the movie looked a little bit generic. I definitely understood what the movie previews were trying to convey, but the whole thing gave me a very bland animated endeavor, which (again) is quite strange given the recent success that DreamWorks had in 2022. The story (from what I could gather) looked like a cartoon “coming of age” teen drama, but with more adventurous aspects of mermaids and krakens. The animation looked bright and colorful, yet something about felt a little dated, especially when compared to some more stylish animated features films over the past several years. So, right off the bat, I felt that Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken has a little bit of a disadvantage going against it, with the movie being released on June 30th, 2023; a holiday weekend in the US and being released alongside Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (a high profile film). So, I decided to wait a few days after the holiday rush to check out the movie and hope that my expectations for this latest DreamWorks offering, which were a little bit low, were met. And were they? Well, it was rather average and generic…in my opinion. Despite its attempt with its animation and voice acting, Ruby Gilman, Teenage Kraken winds up being a rather formulaic cartoon feature that feels too rushed and overstuffed in its presentation as well as being too “surface level” within its context. It does have a few merits in its undertaking, but it’s definitely near the bottom of the DreamWorks Animation releases.

Ruby Gilman, Teenage Kraken is directed by Kirk DeMicco, whose previous directorial works include The Croods, Space Chimps, and Vivo, as well as being co-directed by Fayrn Pearl. Given his familiarity with animated projects (as director and writer), DeMicco seems like a suitable choice to tackle this latest DreamWorks cartoon motion picture. DeMicco approaches the film with a sense of familiarity. Yes, of course, that familiarity breeds similarities in other animated ventures (more on that below), but, for this part of my review, the movie’s familiarity brings up is in the teenage growing pains of youth. Everyone, in some point of their lives, grew up and changed from child to a teenage; going through the motions of adolescence and hitting puberty. It’s a common notion and DeMicco does give an amusing familiarity with Teenage Kraken by seeing Ruby going through a monstrous transformation as she comes of age of her family’s heritage. This, of course, makes for a proven “coming of age” narrative, with DeMicco utilizing that customary format style of storytelling as the bases for the film. It’s a proven method to work and Teenage Kraken does it’s best to try and follow the familiar path. Yes, it definitely struggle to discern itself, but still manages to make a small impact on its viewers. Speaking of viewers, DeMicco knows of who Teenage Kraken’s target audience is by shaping the feature intended for the younger crowd that is somewhere between the “juice box” kids to tweens. It’s colorful, comical, and lighthearted for the most part, with some mild peril in a few scenes. Plus, the feature’s runtime is kept relatively short, with the movie clocking in at around 90 minutes, which makes it easy for its intended viewers to get in and get out rather quickly by holding their attention spans. Plus, DeMicco makes the movie accessible to all. It’s not the most bold or well-rounded film, but it’s relatively easy to follow and digestible to sit through.

For its presentation, Teenage Kraken is a bit of mixed bag and doesn’t quite have the same caliber level as other animated feature endeavors of late. For its positives, I would definitely have to say that it definitely has a unique design for most of its setting layout and character models. Bodies aren’t physically proportioned the correct way (feeling more whimsical) and have elongated limbs (arms and legs), which gives the characters (both major and minor) a very distinct look. Mind you…. It’s not the greatest of animation styles (more on that below), but it still makes for a minor appeal, which certainly does help the film’s characteristics a very fluid style. In addition, the animation is quite colorful, with bright and vibrant elements of color on display throughout the entire project, which makes for a “eye catching” visual expression for the eyes. Again, not the best, but definitely the brightest coloring. In addition, there were a few moments where the cinematography work done by Jon Gutman helps elevate certain scenes for some slick and imaginative sequences that heighten the cartoon drama. Lastly, while the film’s score, which was composed by Stephanie Economou, hits all the right customary melodies, motifs, and motion that are standard for a film’s soundtrack composition (nothing truly bad, yet nothing remarkable), the movie does feature a lot of pop-culture songs that easily catchy to listen to and help build upon the youthful angst of Ruby Gillman’s life and teenage peers.

Unfortunately, Teenage Kraken isn’t the absolute best that the studio has to offer, with the feature running out of steam in several crucial areas and becoming problematic as events of the movie propel forward. How so? Well, for starters, the film itself is rather generic and bland. While the animation colors keep everything vibrant and eye-catching, the story of Ruby Gilman is rather flimsy at best and barely scratches the surface on a lot of particular aspects…..both primary and supportive threads. Almost everything about this film screams of mediocrity, which is a shame, because one can easily see the potential that DeMicco is trying to convey with this animated tale. Yet, despite that notion, the movie itself wallows in such banality that it’s basically a derivate a lot of similar endeavors. In truth, Teenage Kraken takes scenarios and plot points from some of Pixar’s films, including from both Luca and Turning Red. It’s quite see to see the similarities between those cartoon features and this one, but while a homage can be flattering, how it is presented in this movie feels underwhelming and watered down. Again, the scenarios and themes of friendship, being teenager, growing pains, clashing with parents, are all commonplace notions that are quite universal. However, it must be handled (and presented) in a way that holds true in the feature’s own way and making its own mark. That can not be said for Teenage Kraken as it reeks of familiarity, but not in way that makes it feel original nor that much in the way of creativity. Basically, the movie is running on auto pilot for most of it run, with the script, which was penned by Pam Brady, Brian C. Brown, and Elliott DiGuiseppi, is to be considered rather predictable and formulaic throughout. In short, Teenage Kraken could’ve gone deep within its story, but ends up being rather flat with a lot of “been there, done that” feeling within its own similarities.

Another problem with the movie is found within its pacing and it manages to convey subplot points. While I do praise the feature for its breezy runtime, Teenage Kraken does suffer from being “too rushed” for its own good and never allows the film to slow and breathe correctly. This results in events (both character and story) feeling a bit “surface level” and glossing over depth and insight in many facets of Teenage Kraken’s tale. Everything feels very straight-forward and still somewhat easy to follow, yet feels incredible rushed and never allows events and character to explore their true well-roundness. Heck, it also feels like certain events and / or sequences were cut from the movie’s final cut, especially during the second act and leaves a lot to be desired in this portion. There are a few side / supporting narrative threads that are presented, yet really don’t go anywhere and are sort of left unanswered or unexplored by the time Teenager Kraken ends. Most notable, the conflict between Krakens and Mermaids. It would’ve been really interested to see a further explore this dynamic in greater depth and could’ve play a more valuable exposition / storytelling piece in the feature than what was presented. Even a lot of the film’s characters are rather one-note or one dimensional and lack the proper insight beyond their initial setup; rendering the players in Teenage Kraken cardboard like. Also, the comedy, while geared towards intended audiences, do misses its mark more often than landing its target, which is a bit of letdown. Lastly, the visual style of animation, while has a bit of unique design within its own flair, feels dated, especially when examining some of today’s more stylish cartoon movie endeavors. By comparison, Teenage Kraken feels like byproduct of a feature film that was shelved a decade with a rather rudimentary / standard CGI animated projection rather than standing out against its current animated competition.

For the most part, Teenage Kraken is really well-stacked with its voice cast, which are relatively great across the board. Sadly, while the vocal performances are good, the character themselves are rather “stock-like” and generic, cookie cutter depictions that really does hamper the film. Leading the charge in the movie is actress Lana Condor as the main protagonist character of Ruby Gillman. Known for her roles in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Alita: Battle Angel, and Moonshot, Condor, while relatively unknown in the “big screen” world, yet has managed to make an impact on the streaming platform, especially in her character role of Lara Jean in To All the Boys brand. Personally, I think that Condor perfect captures Ruby the correct way, with the right amount of teen anxiousness and eager melodrama frustrations of which the movie wants to convey. For this part, Condor is the right fit and makes for an endearing performance in Ruby’s story arc in Teenage Kraken. However, the derivate nature of the main character’s journey is bland and has been done before, the script do very little to discern itself from other similar female protagonist characters. Thus, it’s a bit of mixed bag when it comes to the character of Ruby Gillman, with Condor giving a fun and likeable performance in an otherwise rather predictable and formulaic lead role in a kid’s animated film.

Behind her, actresses Toni Colette (Hereditary and About a Boy) and Jane Fonda (Book Club and Monster-in-Law) anchor the feature as the more seasoned “veteran” acting talents as Ruby’s mother, Agatha Gillman, and Ruby’s blue-blooded grandmother named Grandmamah. Collectively, both Collette and Fonda are great in their respective roles, with the former having the right amount of motherly warmth and stress of dealing with a teenager, while the latter projects an equal measure of grand haughtiness in the presiding ruler of the Kraken kingdom. Perhaps the real disappointment is that the character are formulaic right from the get-go and do lack some ingenuity in their respective roles. Even their backstory of what drove them apart seem rather vague and undercooked, which is strange because that is one of the more crucial elements that Teenage Kraken strives for, especially when examining Ruby’s plight of accepting her roles as princess kraken. The other Gillman family members, including actor Colman Domingo (Fear the Walking Dead and Transformers: Rise of the Beasts) as Ruby’s supportive dad Arthur, young actor Blue Chapman (Councils of Dads and City of Ghosts) as Ruby’s energetic second-grade younger brother Sam Gillman, and actor Sam Richardson (Veep and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates) as the enthusiastic younger brother to Agatha / Ruby’s uncle named Brill, are mostly there for supporting roles and to help fill in the gap of exposition narrative content. All talents are good in their respective roles, but (again) the character themselves feel like a missed opportunity to delve deeper into their roles. There is a kind of minor subplot with these three, but it seemed merely to keep Arthur, Connor, and Brill in the movie (keeping them busy), while the larger focus was played on Ruby, Agatha, and Grandmamah.

Ruby’s friends, including actress Liza Koshy (Work It and Transformers: Rise of the Beasts) as the dramatic Margot, actress Ramona Young (Never Have I Ever and Blockers) as the goth girl Bliss, and actor Eduardo Franco (Booksmart and American Vandal) as the gamer Trevin, make up the some of the supporting roles in the movie. While all the voice talents involved (like the rest of the cast) are solid, the character themselves are rather generic to the letter as stereotypical teens as well as being way too similar to Mei’s friends in Turning Red. The same can be partly said for actor Jaboukie Young-White (Strange World and C’mon C’mon), who plays the character of Connor, Ruby’s skater-boy crush. Young-White is good in the voice for Connor and there is material to lay the ground for something “interesting” in his relationship with Ruby (they both have that awkward connection toward each other), but the film never delves deep enough to explore.

In addition, actress Annie Murphy (Schitt’s Creek and The Plateaus) plays the character of Chelsea Van Der Zee, a popular, snobbish new teenage girl at Oceanside High, who gets mixed into Ruby’s life as mermaid. I do find it humorous that the movie goes out of its way to make the character of Chelsea a bit of a parody-esque to the Little Mermaid (red haired, mermaid, Dutch descendant). Murphy is clearly having fun in the role in almost every scene, but the script glosses over those nuances and is actually a bit “on the nose” with how the character is handle. Sadly, Murphy’s Chelsea ends up being a rather weak character, despite her importance to the story. Lastly, actor Will Forte (Booksmart and The Good Boys) makes for amusing (and sometimes hilarious) character of Captain Gordon Lighthouse, a crazy old sailor man who believes Kraken exists. Forte makes for a fun side character in the film and does make a lasting impression (more so than a lot of the main players), but he sort of gets pushed aside more often than not, which is quite a shame.

The rest of the cast, including actor Echo Kellum (Arrow and Dealing with Dad) and actress Nicole Byer(*Loosely Exactly Nicole and Rugrats) as Doug and Janice, YouTubers Preston and Bri Arsement portray potential unnamed home buyers, and film critic Juju Green voices Ruby’s high school gym teacher, are delegated to smaller roles in Teenage Kraken. Most of these characters are very minor supporting characters, so their very limited by design and I don’t give them too much examination beyond their perfectly decent voices.


Told not stand out and to stay away from the water, Ruby Gillman forgoes those parental instructions, discovers her true power as a kraken of the seas, and gets entangled in a dark plot with the kraken’s nemesis of the mermaids in the movie Ruby Gilman, Teenage Kraken. Directors Kirk DeMicco and Fayrn Pearl’s latest film takes the familiar angst of the growing pains of a teenager and merges that into animated cartoon adventure that involves mythical underwater creatures such as krakens and mermaids. While the animation was colorful, the themes admirable, and the voice talents welcoming, the film itself never rises to occasion and becomes problematic from the get-go, including a weak plot, rushed narrative, predictable / formulaic moments, and a cookie cutter characters. Personally, I thought that this movie was pretty “meh”. It’s not completely terrible per say, but it’s rather below average throughout the whole viewing experience. The voice acting was good and the inherent sincerity motifs and themes are commendable, but everything about the movie felt like it’s been done before in better narratives and presentations. It’s definitely not the best that DreamWorks has come up with. Perhaps, if released years ago, (somewhere in the early 2010s era) the movie could’ve found a better reception. As it stands, it pales in comparison to other cartoon movie releases of 2023 (The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Nimona). Thus, my recommendation for the movie would be a “skip it” as there really isn’t much for the feature to stand out against its competition and what has been said and done in similar animated endeavors out there. And that statement was hard for me to write because I’ve always been a fan of DreamWorks, the studio that brought us misadventures of a loveable ogre and his fairy tale companions, a wonderful tale of a tubby kung-fu warrior panda, and an endearing friendship saga between a boy and his dragon. In the end, Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken, while having its intent and heart in the right place, ends up being a rather generic and recycled fanfare for an underwhelming and forgettable animated feature.

2.5 Out of 5 (Skip It)


Released On: June 30th, 2023
Reviewed On: July 22nd, 2023

Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken  is 90 minutes long and rated PG for some action, rude humor, and thematic elements


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