Even though Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken‘s script is co-penned by Pam Brady, a scribe with South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut and Team America: World Police to her name, family audiences needn’t worry that her evident penchant for blue humour will seep through. No, alongside Brian C. Brown and Elliott DiGuiseppi (the duo having collaborated on 2019’s Lucy in the Sky), the only thing blue here is the lush depths of the ocean and the skin tone of its titular character – an awkward, 16-year-old whose about to uncover the most mammoth of family secrets.
Underneath her unassuming wardrobe – the film clearly taking note of classic teen movie tropes – Ruby Gillman (voiced with effortless warmth and charm by Lana Condor) is just trying to make it through her school year without leading on her true identity. Her parents (Toni Collette and Colman Domingo) have a “let’s start afresh” mentality to them, and though they’re doing their best at posing as humans, their true nature as Krakens – sea “monsters”, to get technical – is precariously bubbling underneath the surface; in fact, Ruby’s mother is so determined for Ruby to stay away from her true form that she’s forbade her from coming into contact with water.
Given this conundrum, Ruby, naturally, comes into contact with water – the downside of living by the sea – and when she’s not expanding to a size that dwarfs her town, she’s uncovering the depths of the ocean and realising her true form may not be something she wants to run away from; Jane Fonda grandly voicing her grandmother, appropriately named Grandmamah, who seeks to highlight Ruby’s destiny as a Queen of the Seven Seas.
If that wasn’t enough to deal with, and, you know, then explaining to her worried parents why she has travelled deep under water, there’s contending with Chelsea Van Der Zee (Annie Murphy, dialling up her vapid Alexis Rose-inflection to eleven) back at school, a flame-haired, instantly popular, mean girl-type who, quite alarmingly, instantly befriends Ruby; yes, you’re right to think it’s a little suspicious.
A melting pot of countless other titles – both animated and live-action – Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken doesn’t exactly break any moulds over the course of its slick 91 minutes, but it’s all so incredibly harmless and genuinely sweet that family audiences shouldn’t mind; especially when the script is clever enough to cater to adults just as much as kids. Teen movies like the John Hughes catalogue, and more recent endeavours as Easy A (2010) and Booksmart (2019) easily come to mind throughout – though, obviously, here it’s all much less witty and adult-coded – whilst the Disney slate of Luca, Turning Red and The Little Mermaid can’t help but appear as reference points too.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing to be reminded of other titles when viewing, but it can’t help but highlight the road travelled before Ruby Gillman. That being said, the animated visuals are gorgeous, it’s far funnier than it should be, and the through-line message of being proud of yourself and your perceived flaws is still one that kids (and adults) should adhere to; sure, Barbie might’ve done it better, but you can never hear it enough!
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is now screening in Australian theatres.