At first glance, Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken appears to follow a familiar storyline we’ve encountered in numerous films: a socially awkward teenager struggles to fit in, faces humiliation, but ultimately discovers their unique abilities. With minor variations, this narrative structure can accommodate movies ranging from She’s All That to Cinderella to Spider-Man to Carrie. However, in this particular film, as the title suggests, our lovestruck and nerdy 15-year-old protagonist (voiced by Lana Condor) is not solely preoccupied with asking someone to prom, making friends with the popular new girl, or understanding her strict parents. There’s an additional twist—she’s also a kraken.
There exist various forms of peculiarity. Certain movies embrace their weirdness through an abundance of imagination; it’s evident that the filmmakers have invested significant effort in generating increasingly creative and unpredictable ideas. On the other hand, there are films that venture into the realm of weirdness for a contrasting reason—they appear to have exhausted their reserve of innovative concepts. While sea monsters have become a popular theme in recent animated productions, there’s a stark contrast between the fully fleshed-out universes of The Sea Beast and Luca, and something like Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken, which gives off the impression of a fabricated film one might encounter in a satirical depiction of Hollywood’s creative bankruptcy. Yet, paradoxically, it’s a fictitious movie that we can almost envision ourselves being interested in: Hold on, the protagonist is a kraken? The ancient, legendary, ship-devouring giant octopus from Scandinavian sailor tales? Well, what will that be like?
It’s undeniably going to be an unconventional experience. I’m uncertain exactly when it struck me that I was immersed in what could very well be the most peculiar film of the year. Perhaps it was the moment when Ruby’s parents, concealing their true identities as a family of krakens, evaded their children’s awareness. Or maybe it was the realization that Ruby, despite residing in a seaside village, was explicitly forbidden from entering the ocean. And let me clarify, this isn’t just any coastal village; it’s a place where every aspect of life revolves around the sea. School excursions exclusively involve water-related activities, and even the prom is set to take place on a boat. Curiosity got the better of someone who asked Ruby’s mother, Agatha (voiced by Toni Collette), “Why do you choose to live near the water?” To which she simply replied, “We needed to maintain our moisture.”
Initially, Ruby remains unaware of her kraken identity. All she knows is that she must wear turtlenecks to conceal her gills, fearing ridicule from her peers at school. However, when she feels embarrassed, one of her legs peculiarly coils around the other in a tentacular fashion. It becomes challenging to discern whether this unusual physical trait is an actual character feature or simply a manifestation of the movie’s slippery and psychedelic animation style. The appearance of Ruby Gillman exhibits a certain budgetary simplicity reminiscent of TV cartoons, yet its frames are filled with an array of peculiar objects and uniquely designed elements. It’s almost as if the filmmakers hope that by overwhelming us with visual clutter, we won’t notice the overall lack of creativity and inspiration. Even during moments when our protagonist transforms into a colossal and terrifying underwater creature, it remains puzzling to determine her intended appearance. Her hair consists of tentacles, while her massive fingers bear suckers. What exactly do the creators of this movie envision a kraken to look like? Ruby appears as though an inebriated individual attempted to depict Cthulhu from memory.
Ruby Gillman attempts to straddle two divergent paths. On one hand, it aspires to be a vibrant, colorful, and neon-drenched teenage fantasy—a lighthearted comedy embellished with moments of romantic yearning, odes to enduring friendships, and gentle clashes with overprotective parents. However, simultaneously, there’s a hint of existential surrender in its audacious high concept. By transforming the teenage protagonist (I still find it hard to believe I’m typing this) into a kraken, albeit a poorly realized one, the film undermines the familiar charm of its premise in the cruelest manner. It serves as a reminder that ultimately nothing truly holds significance. Ruby Gillman may appear to be an unassuming animated feature—a trivial, family-friendly diversion—yet at some juncture, brace yourself for a moment of clarity that exposes the sheer absurdity of this entire undertaking. And when I say “this entire undertaking,” I’m referring to life itself.
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