When I first saw the trailer for Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken (2023), I knew I had to watch it as soon as it came out.
The concept of the monstrous Kraken, normally depicted as something evil, being the ‘good guy’ was an interesting idea.
While this situation of an unconventional protagonist isn’t new when it comes to Dreamworks – Shrek anyone? – the part where the ever-popular mermaid is the villain drew me in.
Perhaps it’s more than a coincidence that this film was released a few weeks after the live action The Little Mermaid (2023).
But does Ruby Gillman breathe fresh life into the classic story of how not to judge a book by its cover?
Or will the film sink back into the depths of the ocean?
Here’s my review of this latest addition to the Dreamworks line up.
Plot: Well, it’s definitely a kid’s movie
The film is about fifteen-year-old Ruby Gillman (Lana Condor), a shy, nerdy high school student who is actually a Kraken. But get this – all she wants is to live her normal, teenage life!
Immediately one thing is apparent about Ruby when you watch the trailer. Even though she’s supposed to be hiding in the normal human world, she’s bright blue.
Now, you might think that perhaps it is a dream sequence or something similar, but no. What you see is what the other characters see.
This idea that Ruby is a secret sea monster is played off as a joke in the movie.
So, judging from the child-like logic presented from the first few minutes, you can tell that you’re not supposed to take this film seriously.
The story in Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is very by the book, which isn’t to say that it’s a bad thing – I enjoyed myself enough as I was watching the movie.
Unfortunately, it seems more like a waste of potential. Everything presented in the movie is so predictable, it’s like Dreamworks decided to make a safe, average movie.
Maybe it’s a good thing that every scene in this 91-minute movie quickly flies by you. There is hardly any time to appreciate scenes, though there isn’t anything substantial anyway.
Basically, the film seems perfectly catered to the short attention spans of children nowadays – it’s short, quick, and pretty harmless.
Acting: The villain is probably the best part
The movie tries to set up an emotional story and conflict between Ruby Gillman and her mother, Agatha (Toni Collette).
While these two main stars are good actors, there’s nothing too interesting about their characters except their character designs.
Ruby Gillman is a basic, girl next door type who loves math and just wants to fit in and date the guy that she has a crush on.
Unfortunately, every character in the movie is very one dimensional – each person is a walking trope, very much like a simple cartoon.
The only character this kind of works for is the villain, Chelsea Van Der Zee (Annie Murphy).
She’s the snobby mermaid of the film that’s so unapologetically fake that it’s basically a parody of the Plastics from Mean Girls (2004).
Everything about her is so 2000s popular girl cliché that you can’t help but see what she’ll do or say next.
Plus, she’s a red-haired mermaid. Gee, I wonder who that reminds me of?
Visuals: Could’ve been so much better
When you picture underwater animated movies, you think of vibrant colours, coral reefs, tons of ocean life swimming about around you.
Yet when Ruby Gillman enters the sea and ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ about how amazing the ocean life is, I can’t help but go ‘wait, is that it?’.
The underwater world in Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is severely lacking. Everything is dark and dreary besides a couple of colourful scenes that only last a few seconds.
Honestly, the surface human world is much more colourful – I can see why Ruby’s family is secretly living there, it’s so much more interesting!
Every time the film switches to the underwater world, it gets so visually boring.
It’s possible that this was a design choice to push the idea that the human world is better and so they can show off Ruby’s Kraken form since it glows in the dark.
The character designs are quite creative, as each character looks unique from one another.
Everyone has a cartoonish design with round, exaggerated features, which I suppose really pushes the idea that this is a kid’s film.
Soundtrack: Where’s the teen pop music?
I know I literally mentioned the other day about how many animated films use out of place pop songs…
But I feel like Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken really needed to use tons of those in its soundtrack.
Ruby Gillman is a teenager, and what comes to mind when you think of formulaic, made-for-tv teen movies? Teen pop music!!
Where’s the Billie Eilish? Ariana Grande? Any popular pop songs from the last decade that would be played on repeat in any teen girl’s room…?
Even if they wanted to avoid using any existing pop songs, why is there sudden Kpop music played in one dramatic scene halfway through the movie?!
The music in Ruby Gillman isn’t terrible, it does serve its purpose to accompany a scene.
It’s just, personally, very forgettable.
Memang conclusion: It could’ve been so much more
📖 Plot — 3.0 out of 5.0 stars
🎭 Acting — 2.5 out of 5.0 stars
🎥 Visuals — 2.5 out of 5.0 stars
🎵 Soundtrack — 2.5 out of 5.0 stars
🍿 Memang score — 2.6 out of 5.0 stars
I wouldn’t say Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken (2023) is a bad movie. I think it’s an okay film that would be best enjoyed by younger audiences.
This film seems like it’s trying to do so many things at once.
It feels like it wants to go against the mermaid fairytale and at the same time, be a homage to those iconic teen movies of the past.
In fact, the director, Kirk DeMicco, even cites many popular teen films like the John Hughes movies and Easy A (2010) as inspirations!
Ruby Gillman is rated P12 in the Malaysian cinema and it really feels like it is for that 10-year-old demographic who dream of being an older teenager.
For me, I think it could’ve been more enjoyable had they really leaned into the idea of being a teen movie.
While I did enjoy Ruby Gillman, this is likely not something I’ll watch again.
Featured: Universal Pictures