There’s a certain magic to watching films with kids. The way they’re completely immersed in the film, clinging onto every word spoken on screen. They completely lose themselves in the story.
That was certainly the case at the family screening of Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken, DreamWorks Animation’s latest animated adventure. The colourful, funny tale captured the hearts of the younger audience members – but anyone over the age of 10 might struggle a little.
The film follows – you guessed it! – Ruby Gillman, your regular teenage girl, just trying to fit in at her high school and find the courage to ask her crush to prom. All in all, pretty normal stuff, right? Except that she turns into a giant kraken any time she touches salt water.
Ruby is suddenly introduced to a whole new world below the surface as she meets her royal Grandmamah, who reveals that Ruby is in fact a princess and that mermaids are the krakens’ most deadly, vicious enemies.
The film boasts an impressive, talented voice cast. Lana Condor voices Ruby, Toni Collette is Ruby’s mother Agatha and Jane Fonda voices Grandmamah. Additionally, Annie Murphy voices the new girl Chelsea and Colman Domingo is Ruby’s father, Arthur. The three generations of women in the centre of Ruby Gillman are the heart and soul of the film, which seems to follow a very familiar path to a predictable conclusion.
Directed by Kirk DeMicco, Ruby Gillman feels overly similar to films such as Pixar’s Elemental and Turning Red; all these films explore kids growing up and the fear of disappointing your parents while searching for your own identity and independence. It’s potent stuff, but Ruby Gillman feels particularly stilted with its narrative.
Visually, Ruby Gillman is gorgeous to look at. The sea scenes are beautiful, and DeMicco utilises a lot of neons to bring the underwater kingdom alive. The problem is, once you visit the magical world under the waves, you don’t really want to go back to dry land, which is where most of Ruby Gillman is set.
The characters are animated with the usual, fluid Dreamworks style. The studio’s slippery, doughy texture of characters fits Ruby (a kraken) nicely, but the humans and krakens are animated with the exact same style. The fact that the Gillmans are also bright blue instead of flesh-coloured is barely acknowledged; no one in this marine town seems to notice or care that this family is incredibly fishy (pun fully intended).
There is still much to enjoy in Ruby Gillman. It’s a charming film; the humour lands well and the voice cast elevates the familiar script. While the high school drama aspect of the film is certainly less interesting than Ruby coming to terms with her identity, there is something captivating about it all. There’s a lot of heart in Ruby Gillman, even if the film’s narrative recycles the greatest hits of better films.
Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is in cinemas 30 June.