Review by Cole Groth
Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is one of those films bound to fail. There’s virtually no buzz for the latest Dreamworks film, and while Warner Bros. and Disney struggle at the box office with The Flash and Elemental, Universal seems eager to group up with them. Business isn’t everything, but it’s hard to feel bad for a film failing when it’s as annoying as this. While families with low expectations will find a fun way to spend 91 minutes, anybody expecting something on the level of Puss in Boots: The Last Wish will be sorely disappointed as Dreamworks misses the mark.
Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken tells the story of Ruby Gillman (Lana Condor), a teenage Kraken. While Ruby tries to live her life as an ordinary girl, she holds a dark secret: she’s secretly a Kraken with the ability to transform into a “giant Kraken” (“giant” is repeated many times throughout the film for no real reason). Her blueness and slimy appearance as a sea creature are conveniently explained early on in the film — her family is Canadian. Imagine Turning Red if the animation was worse, the characters more annoying, and the story more derivative.
After befriending a mermaid, Ruby begins to go against her family’s wishes as she forges her own destiny. What follows is a journey of self-discovery, sea exploration, and coming-of-age hijinks. This story has been played out many times before, and while this doesn’t miss any of the regular beats, it doesn’t add much, either. The conflict between Ruby and her mother is a generically manufactured conflict that isn’t written well enough to fit. Ruby makes so many stupid decisions throughout this, and while it can be explained away as her being a fifteen-year-old, that’s not a good enough excuse.
Since voice actors can’t get work in major animated movies anymore, we’ve got an extensive lineup of celebrities working on this project. Lana Condor kills it as Ruby. She brings the awkward energy of her character to life and never feels as annoying as she could be. Her type of character is overplayed in animated movies, but Condor gives a solid performance and shows prowess as a voice actress. Toni Collette is an unbelievably talented actress whose skills translate easily to her performance as Agatha, Ruby’s mom. Jane Fonda plays Ruby’s grandmother and has a great dynamic between Condor and Collette. Annie Murphy is decent as a mermaid with unrealized intentions but isn’t written well, making her voice-acting skills mute. Sam Richardson and Will Forte play obnoxious characters but are funny enough to deserve praise. Colman Domingo and Jaboukie Young-White leave something to be desired in their performances but do a decent job otherwise.
While Condor, Collette, and Fonda do a particularly good job, most of it goes to waste through the black hole of talent that is Liza Koshy. Koshy plays the role of Margot, Ruby’s best friend. Margot fills the space as the generic representation for Dreamworks, who has a throwaway line about being a lesbian, which can easily be cut for foreign markets to maintain whatever box office potential this could have. As a 15-year-old girl, Margot is simply unbelievable, spewing lines of dialogue that sound nothing like a teenager. It’s unhelpful that Koshy gives the most ear-grating performance in an animated movie of all time. It is genuinely Razzie-worthy how annoyingly unbearable she is to listen to. Whoever stupidly believed that Koshy would be the best fit should be fired.
While not annoying as Koshy’s performance, the character design is not much better. Ruby and the rest of her Kraken family are adorably animated and have the fluidity needed to stand out in the crowd. As it comes to the human characters, this falls flat. There’s not an appealing face to look at in the sea of people. It’s all reminiscent of the ugly design of characters in Kroger commercials: weird blob structure, bad proportions, and terrible hair. It’s disappointing because they knocked it out of the park with the main characters, so why does everybody else have to look awful?
One of the more egregious studio decisions behind this is the excessive use of licensed music. Plenty of scenes could’ve been enhanced through the use of Stephanie Economous’s score. Instead, 30-second snippets of pop music fill nearly every gap. Many of these songs don’t fit, and most of them interrupt the mood. Universal seems to have a big problem with this, with The Super Mario Bros. Movie having a solid score undermined by an atrocious overuse of pop music.
While Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken hits the comfortable notes of this type of animated family comedy, it’s a shame that this couldn’t be better. Dreamworks has tried something original and interesting, but bad behind-the-scenes decisions and an annoying tone bog it down. It’s painfully generic, and although kids will enjoy this, is it too much to ask for kids’ entertainment to be better? There’s not much substance for adults beyond a somewhat visually exciting action/adventure. Before this movie, Dreamworks played their new logo, which highlights the countless iconic characters they’ve created. Unfortunately, Ruby Gillman feels destined to fade into the darkness, as this mediocre entry for the studio won’t leave much of an impression.
Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken releases in theaters starting June 30.