Animation Review: Ruby Gillman - Teenage Kraken

Animation Review: Ruby Gillman - Teenage Kraken

By Bessy ADUT

This is a DreamWorks Animation review. Firstly, I would like to thank my creative collaborator/career counselor friend Sarah Melnick. I started writing again this year at the Jewish newspaper Şalom and Sarah encouraged me to open up to new realms such as an opera and an animation review so I would like to send my thanks for that. One common point we all have here is that me, Sarah and one of the co-directors of this animation film are all CalArts Alumni from different divisions.

Here is a short trailer of the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4uyD8FFUIw

I appreciate having the opportunity to view the film and listen to the podcast Q&A afterward (https://youtu.be/M39HNA0wqQ0).

I will highly recommend reading the rest of my review after watching the animation as it contains the story and several spoilers; yes this is a spoiler alert!

I would like to share watching after reviewing the film to hear about the film from the directors and the music composer. You can see and listen to Director and Academy Award®-nominated filmmaker Kirk DeMicco (Vivo, The Croods) and producer Kelly Cooney Cilella, p.g.a. (Trolls World Tour, Trolls), and Faryn Pearl (The Croods: A New Age, Trolls World Tour) serving as co-director being interviewed by Mark Smythe.

The tagline is catchy and true: “Sometimes the hero you are meant to be lies just beneath the surface.”

Ruby Gillman is the main character who goes to high school and is going through the usual teenage girl problems. While feeling different than her peers she finds out that her family belongs to the legendary royal lineage of mythical sea krakens that call her to an adventure. This adventure takes her away for a while from her prom date and the cool young boy she has a crush on. She needs to find her true self and resolve some family issues first such as her mom and grandmother who are not on speaking terms.

As she already has trouble in Oceanside High, she jumps into the ocean, which is a metaphor within her true self for figuring out who she is, what she is becoming, and making peace with that.

Some general thoughts we had throughout the movie, visually colors were very vibrant and I loved the neon lighting. One noticeable feature differentiating this DreamWorks animation from Disney is, that in Disney movies usually characters burst into songs whereas in this animation, music is in the soundtrack complimenting the story. I also noticed some similarities with some other movies and characters looking familiar such as The Little Mermaid, Avatar, and even Alice in Wonderland as the character keep getting bigger or smaller for this world. I can also see a resemblance with the award-winning movie Lady Bird in some ways.

The film has been in development for 1.5 years and they had some creative challenges. Ruby has a high school sweetheart who is a skater however her overprotective mom keeps her away from her peers for a while and doesn’t allow her to get into water. Of course, as a rebellious teenager, Ruby breaks her mom’s rule and jumps right in and finds out her true secret identity from her grandmother. Ruby finds out she is destined to the throne from her grandmother and she needs to protect the oceans of the world against the vain, power-hungry mermaids who have been fighting the Kraken for ages. The popular girl of the school happens to be a mermaid who looks very similar to the original little mermaid. Ironically in this film, mermaids are the bad ones and krakens are our heroes.

Ruby Gillman continues trying to fit in now split into two worlds. Her self-exploring journey separates her from her friends Margot, Trevin, and Bliss for a while. She doesn’t have a chance to make it up to her crush after accidentally knocking Connor into the water. However, if she never jumped into the water to save him, she would never find out who she really was.

All her changes and metamorphosis can be seen as a "coming of age" story. For instance, she gets really big like a giant, in a similar fashion to Alice, at some point and destroys the library. This could be seen as everything she has known to this point is destroyed and she is opening up the real knowledge. Who knows more? Who reads or travels? A little bit of both.

When Ruby sneaks out to meet her grandmother, the Warrior Queen of Seven Seas and Brill helps her. Ruby learns from her grandmother that she is a princess. Ruby refuses the throne at first which is known as "refusal of the call" in Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell and most successful films in history including "Wizard of Oz" to "Matrix” follow these steps. Our heroes are always reluctant at first and it makes sense as each of us is afraid of big changes at first.

However, on her way home, Ruby gets attacked and almost gets killed and Chelsea the mermaid helps her out.

After all these adventures, Ruby attempts to go back to her ordinary life but of course that is not possible. Her footage from Kraken becomes viral. I do like how it’s relevant to our current times. Of course, it goes viral! Chelsea, the mermaid, tells her to help unite the Krakens and Mermaids which sounds like a sweet idea, so Ruby trains with Grandmamah to get strong enough to do it.

Finally prom night hits, Ruby confesses to her mom about Chelsea, and her mom Agatha gets very frustrated that she made friends with a mermaid and bans Ruby from seeing her grandmother again. Agatha goes to confront Grandmamah and they figure Chelsea is not who she says she is. Ruby understands that she was being played and Chelsea was trying to get revenge from Krakens. Nerissa takes off her masquerade and captures Ruby. Mom and Grandmom have to get their powers together to save her and protect her. Nerissa gains power for a minute but Ruby, her mom, and grandmother get their strengths together to overcome her.

And we have a very lovely happy ending where Ruby makes peace with her mother, and her mother and grandmamah reconcile. After family matters and saving the sea world, Ruby goes back to her friends. “Work hard, party hard.” She asks Connor out to prom where she left off, he accepts and we end on a nice music and dancing scene with a catchy song. In the end, we also see Ruby and Connor are dating now and she accepts becoming the protector of Oceanside. She accepts her true destiny.

This animated film consists of a lot of action and comedy alongside the teenage drama and it is very relatable. The voiceovers of the characters were done by a star cast of wonderful people consisting of the voices of  the movie stars Lana Condor, Toni Collette, Annie Murphy, Sam Richardson, Liza Koshy, Will Forte, Colman Domingo, Jaboukie Young-White, Blue Chapman, and Jane Fonda. Voice acting was praised by the movie critics. Aside from that, the movie had mixed reviews and in my opinion, was underrated, it is a great animation and the story needs more love and exploration by all generations.

The music of the film score was composed by Stephanie Economou and Mimi Webb performed “This Moment” and Freya Ridding's “Rise” plays in the end credits. Definitely a very pleasant soundtrack to explore and listen to as well. The film was nominated at Hollywood Music in Media Awards for Best Original Score in an Animated Film.

I had an opportunity to work at DreamWorks Animation many years ago as a temp assistant and always liked the animations coming out of their studios. It was a pleasure to see this animation, as an adult who keeps the child within always alive. Well done animation.

I would like to leave it on a wish to have a chance to collaborate with some of these creatives at some point in my second life I am focusing on aside from my writing/journaling which is filmmaking. As I was reading a fantasy book written by a writer friend Mariaa Nova titled "Infinit" I thought it could be great in animation movie and mentioned that to her. Wish we had the opportunity to pitch. This animation got me excited and made me consider directing animation in the future. Maybe in a way like the character Ruby, I realize a secret power I may have within. I would like to talk to co-director Faryn Pearl and have an interview for Şalom if possible to learn more and get more inspiration.

The film’s theatrical release was in the summer of 2023 but it can be found on digital media. Sometimes films and animations don’t get the attention they deserve being under the shadow of other works publicity and marketing, however, this is a gem waiting to be explored. Feel free to write me your thoughts about this animation as feedback my dear readers, when you get a chance as well as your questions. I am inspired by what they are doing and would love to answer your questions or share your feedback with the creatives when possible.

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