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Review: Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken (2023)

Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken (2023)

Directed by: Kirk DeMicco and Faryn Pearl

Premise: An animated film. Teenager Ruby Gillman (Lana Condor) and her family are sea creatures living among human beings. Ruby discovers her oceanic family and their ancient rivalry with mermaids.

What Works: Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is a fantasy film but it is grounded in the reality of the adolescent experience. Ruby is an awkward teenager trying to reconcile her identity and the qualities that separate her from the rest of her peer group. The moviemakers do an excellent job visualizing that awkwardness and anxiety. Ruby’s body is less skeletal and more flexible than the average human being and that allows her to contort her body in ways that reveal her embarrassment. The filmmakers also include creative inserts and cutaways that add humor and characterization. Ruby conflicts with her family, and especially her mother (voice of Toni Collette), and the domestic storyline is one of the better parts of the film. The story channels not only aspects of teenage life but also the immigrant experience. The Gillman family are from the sea and Ruby discovers an entire world from which she descends that explains her differences. The animation of Ruby Gillman looks great especially when the action moves to the water. The detail and movement and use of light and color are frequently beautiful but also serve a storytelling function. This is a good example of how animation sometimes lends itself better to fantasy than live action filmmaking. Telling this story with flesh and blood actors in real life locations (or a simulation of that as seen in Avatar) would not be as convincing. This is a successfully entertaining picture. It moves along briskly with a ninety-one minute running time and it contains plenty of action and humor. There are a couple of standout set pieces, especially the sequence in which Ruby retrieves an ancient artifact.

What Doesn’t: The narrative of Ruby Gillman is largely a paint-by-numbers job. This is the same kind of superhero story seen in so many fantasy features. Once again, a teenager discovers that the source of her awkwardness is in fact the quality that makes her special and that she is destined for greatness. The plot works through all of the familiar beats and there is nothing surprising about the story or the characters. Even the big reveal that sets up the climactic showdown should be obvious even to most kids. There are just no surprises here and the filmmakers don’t even try to innovate.

Bottom Line: Everything about Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is done satisfactorily and occasionally with style and frequently with good humor. Nothing about the movie is innovative or surprising and it’s weakened by the impression that we’ve seen a lot of this before.

Episode: #958 (July 23, 2023)