Ruby Gillman (voice of Lana Condor) is a sixteen-year-old who lives in Oceanside with her mother Agatha (voice of Toni Colette), father Arthur (voice of Colman Domingo) and brother (voice of Blue Chapman). While trying to navigate the usual problems of an awkward teenager, Ruby also has to contend with the fact that she's actually a kraken who turns into a giant monster whenever she ends up in water. Of course, matters get worse when she reunites with her grandmother (voice of Jane Fonda) and befriends a new girl in school (voice of Annie Murphy) who shares a connection with her...
Let's get the awkward part out of the way before this gets too far into it - yes, the timing for 'Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken' couldn't be possibly worse. No, they didn't hastily add in any kind of jokes or noticeably cut out any scenes from it either. In fact, the whole sea creature / mysteries of the deep thing is really just a metaphor for adulthood and acknowledging our innate gifts. 'Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken' shares parallels with Pixar's 'Turning Red', in that it portrays the awkwardness of the teenager in a tender fashion and without playing it for laughs. Rather, it's growth at a time when most teenagers want to be invisible.
Yet, compared to 'Turning Red', the efforts here in 'Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken' feel decidedly less incisive. It's broader strokes with less detail, more geared for fun and laughs than it is towards saying something original or heartfelt. In a lot of ways, it feels like it's drafting off the success of 'Turning Red' rather than finding its own wave. It's not to say that 'Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken' isn't good fun or that it's got some enjoyable moments.
The voice cast is varied and enthusiastic, with Jane Fonda rattling through some clunky exposition with ease and playing the overbearing grandmother to Lana Condor's terminally-awkward granddaughter. Toni Colette's skill at driving emotion through subtle gestures isn't lost in animation. Colman Domingo's warm tones are suited to the father character, while Will Forte's screeching tones work wonderfully as the Captain Bird's Eye adjacent character titled - wait for it - Gordon Lighthouse.
Indeed, the script written in part by 'South Park' veteran Pam Brady, has plenty of nautical jokes and puns rippling through it. When Annie Murphy's character turns up as the popular new girl who just so happens to also be a mermaid, the story takes a turn away from frothy and awkward teenage comedy into a stale superhero-adjacent story about ancient battles and hidden weapons that ultimately ends up in a climactic battle of good versus evil. It's a shame that the movie melts when it hits the seas as it's much better on terra firma - literally.
Still, 'Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken' is a pleasant and family-friendly animated adventure-comedy. Though it might lack a keen edge, it's all too agreeable and enjoyable for that to stop you from taking little and not quite little ones along to enjoy it.