RUBY GILLMAN, TEENAGE KRAKEN – Review – We Are Movie Geeks



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Things have certainly gotten interesting recently with the Summer box office. Usually, we’d be talking about the records being broken by the superhero franchises or the big action-adventure “tentpoles”. Then a big switch happened last weekend when the first two spots in the weekly BO “Top Tens” were animated features. Studio wisdom was the notion that animated flicks would “cancel each other out” hurting the ticket sales on both. Nope, not this time, though the rapid downhill trajectory of a certain scarlet speedster aided their performance. Could this brand-new animated feature snag a spot in the top five with the other two holdovers? Mind you, that globetrotting archeologist will crack his bullwhip into the upper slots on the roster. However, families may want to return to the sea after that recent Disney live-action remake and dive into the adventures of another mythical nautical being, RUBY GILLMAN, TEENAGE KRAKEN.

Wait a sec, isn’t the Kraken a monstrous destructive demon from the ocean’s depths, from CLASH OF THE TITANS, as in “Release the…”? Well, the savvy narrator at the start of this story sets us straight. It seems that the Krakens are really the protectors of the sea, battling other “beasties’ including those savage mermaids (so they’re “baddies”). Plus it turns out that a family of Krakens lives on the land in the port city of Oceanside as the Gillmans (figures). They can “pass” as long as they stay out of the water, and cover their gills with high collars and turtleneck sweaters. The title character, Ruby (voice of Lana Condor) is a high schooler sharing a home with her bratty kid brother Sam (Blue Chapman), crafting wizard and shop owner dad Arthur (Coleman Domingo), and successful real estate agent mom Agatha (Toni Colette). Ruby really wants to go to the upcoming prom with her crush Connor, but Agatha nixes the notion since the dance is on the deck of a big tourist touring ship. But then Ruby’s rebellious pals decide to attend the party “ironically”, so Ruby sets her sights on her dream guy. Oh, but she botches the “prom-posal” and knocks Connor into the “drink”. Ruby saves him, but the seawater transforms her into a multi-tentacled, Godzilla-sized monster. After she dries off and shrinks back to normal (away from the hundreds of digital devices that captured her “rampage”), Ruby confides to her visiting Uncle Brill (Sam Richardson). To answer her questions he guides her deep beneath the surface to get the answers from his mother and her “Grandmamah” (Jane Fonda), the Kraken Quenn. It seems that Agatha gave up her title to live on the land. Ruby returns home hoping to confront her mother. But a new girl shows up at school to complicate things. Perhaps Chelsea (Annie Murphy) has a similar secret. Could she derail Rby’s big night with Connor? More importantly, will Ruby embrace her royal nautical heritage before she’s “discovered”?

The diverse vocal cast, composed of big-screen newcomers and veterans, enhance this whimsical tale. Connor is quite impressive as the teen hero, full of emotion with her pals and in her budding romance, while also showing us her anger over the family history denied to her. Collette as her mum Agatha revels in her hectic balance of sales and family dynamics, loving her new “land” life, but finally realizing that she must embrace her “warrior princess” past. A big part of the latter is Grandmamah, who is given a feisty and haughty tone by Fonda, is thrilled by her newly discovered grandkids, and revels in a bit of mischief with Ruby. Richardson brings an endearing goofball charm to the flaky and fun Uncle Brill. Another comedy pro, Will Forte, is aboard as an old local “salt” who seems to be somewhat related to the Simpsons’ sea captain (“Argh, matey”) and the talking “seadog” picture in the attic of Seth Myers during his “late night lockdown” a couple of years ago. However, Gordon (as in Gordon Lighthouse…clever) has an over-caffeinated mania to his guttural rants.

As with many animated features, this is overseen by a directing “tag team” duo, Kirk Demicco and Faryn Pearl. They’ve created a dazzling colorful world on land and underwater, offsetting soft pastels with bouncy bursts of near-fluorescent hues of violet and deep blue. The Gillman family has a “loosey-gooey” way of movement, a rubbery lurch as though their inner frames were a variation of a classic toy of my youth, the Slinky (“fun for a girl and a boy”), so I’m officially ancient. As with other recent CG flicks (LUCA for one), the artists have done variations of anime facial designs and expressions, which work well to convey the ultra-dramatic teenagers. Unfortunately, the script loses focus around the midpoint to set up a big fantasy action-packed showdown finale. Plus it explores many of the themes of maturity (really puberty) that were better discussed in Pixar’s TURNING RED a few years ago (from giant red panda to towering tentacled “beastie”). And much like the overrated THE MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES, too many slapstick sequences are slowed down (like “bullet-time” in THE MATRIX) in order for the characters to “get in your face” with distorted bits of “mugging”. The preteen set may find this engaging, but after the marvels of the Spider-Verse, animation aficionados may be “treading water’ in the familiar “depths’ and “shallow” interludes at the “surface” of RUBY GILLMAN, TEENAGE KRAKEN. “Glub, glub”.

2 Out of 4

RUBY GILLMAN, TEENAGE KRAKEN is now playing in theatres everywhere

Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.