Review: Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is a Swimmin’ Good Time for the Whole Family

Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is a predictable yet colorful, charming coming-of-age story with a positive message for both kids and parents. The story is beautifully animated with a visually enchanting world. Its fast pace makes up for its waltz through well-trodden story tropes. 

[Editor’s note: This review has some mild spoilers for Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken.]

Monsters and coming-of-age stories are nothing new; just look at the many English Literature PhD papers written for evidence of this. There’s something about the genre that keys into a part of the human psyche. But Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken, brings a fresh take on the trope. It’s subversion in the best way, however predictable the actual story is. There’s sincerity in the storytelling that makes it admirable. 

It Was The Little Mermaid, After All

Ruby Gillman twists the idea of sea monsters – instead of the kraken being the villain (ala in films like Clash of the Titans), the mermaids are the bad guys. Nerissa’s (Annie Murphy) hidden villainy is fun. Of course, the mermaid would be the popular girl in high school. And, of course, she’d be bad. Ruby Gillman’s flipped script reminds me of Wreck-It-Ralph, where Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) was misunderstood. 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the twist was given away in the trailers. While this marketing choice may have been made to appeal to fans of The Little Mermaid, it doesn’t make the film any less enjoyable. If you have kids, especially young ones, there’s a certain appeal to setting expectations for the type of movie you’ll see. And giving away the twist in the trailer allows parents can help their kids prepare for what they’re about to see. 

It’s a charming coming-of-age story. Ruby (Lana Condor) steps forward from the world of desperately trying to fit in as a human and goes on a journey where she accepts and embraces her identity as a royal giant kraken. 

The Story

Ruby Gillman is a teenage girl who lives in a seaside town (aptly named Oceanside) with her unusual family and extremely unique “dog.” They have a secret – they’re all krakens. Ruby has always felt like an outsider and fears what will happen if her secret is revealed. And it doesn’t help that her mom has banned her from the water for some inexplicable reason, causing her to miss out on all sorts of hallmarks of teenagehood in Oceanside. When Ruby jumps into the ocean to save her drowning crush, Connor (Jaboukie Young-White), things go awry. 

It turns out Ruby’s mom Agatha Gillman (Toni Collette), has secrets too. Not only is the family made up of krakens, but they’re actually descended from royalty. When Ruby hits the water, her giant-Kraken royalness is activated, and her Grandmamah (Jane Fonda) is pinged. Grandmamah is a confident Warrior Queen of the Seven Seas who has protected her sea people from the mermaids but is estranged from her daughter Agatha. 

Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken and Sea-rious Honesty

The film’s story is deceptively simple. On the surface, it’s a breezy, predictable coming-of-age adventure. However, the film has refreshing depth and isn’t just about a teenage girl discovering her true identity. It’s also a story about family, acceptance, and the importance of honesty.

The film’s 90-minute runtime flies by with excellent pacing. The film’s true strength lies in its subtext. It challenges the idea that keeping secrets is always the best way to protect your loved ones. The film ultimately suggests that honesty, even when it’s difficult, is the best way to build strong relationships. A whole lot of misery could have been avoided if Agatha had been honest with Ruby about her legacy and Ruby was honest with Agatha about her feelings, but then there wouldn’t be a movie.  

If you liked ShrekKung-Fu Panda, or How to Train Your Dragon, you’ll enjoy Ruby Gillman: Teenage Kraken. And if you remember the sea-shanty TikTok craze from a few years ago – you’re sure to giggle as there’s some callback to that. It’s a summer kids’ movie – airy, fun, and full of adventure with a positive message. 

Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken, directed by Kirk DiMicco and Faryn Pearl and written by Pam Brady and Brian C. Brown & Elliott DiGuiseppi, premiered at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival in France in June 2023. It is now playing in theaters.

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Still looking for something to watch this summer? Check out our review of The Super Mario Bros movie.