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Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken

“Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” is a cheerful, colorful animated film about a shy, academically gifted young girl with a protective mother and devoted friends who transforms into a huge creature as a metaphor for adolescence, with multi-generational conflicts. Yes, it is similar to the terrific “Turning Red,” but this story has its own delights. One of the best family films of the year, "Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken" has humor and heart, buoyant energy, witty and imaginative visuals, and never-less-than brilliant voice talent.  

Ruby (Lana Condor) and her family live in a coastal village called Oceanside. Her mother, Agatha (Toni Collette), is a successful realtor, her father, Arthur (Colman Domingo), runs a gift shop, and she has an energetic little brother Sam (Blue Chapman). Ruby does not look like the other kids at school. She’s blue. And where a human’s hair should be, she has something fishy. Agatha tells her to explain that the family is from Canada, which seems to satisfy everyone. Her mother also cautions that she can never go in the water or even on a boat. That puts a lot of limits on her social life in a beach-centric town. 

Ruby has a crush on Connor (Jaboukie Young-White), a boy she's tutoring in math, but she cannot find the nerve to invite him to the prom. When he falls into the ocean, though, she impulsively jumps in to rescue him. And then, well, you saw the title. Her transformation leads to connections to relatives on her mother’s side of the family she never knew existed, including Uncle Brill (the always-delightful Sam Richardson) and a deliciously imperious grandmother Kraken queen (voiced by Jane Fonda) known as Grandmamah (emphasis on the third syllable, please). 

At first, Ruby is shocked and embarrassed by her Kraken-hood. But thanks to Grandmamah’s encouragement, and a new bestie classmate, Ruby sees how her new abilities have the potential for doing good. The new friend is the instantly popular new girl at school, Chelsea Van Der Zee (Annie Murphy of "Schitt's Creek"). They have something in common. They are both sea creatures; Chelsea is a mermaid. Grandmamah has told Ruby about the war between the Kraken and the mermaids, but Ruby thinks her friendship with Chelsea could lead to a new era of peace and unity. 

The film's settings are beautiful, with charming seaside buildings and an ocean environment so marvelously tactile we can almost smell the sea spray. The movements underwater, whether peaceful or turbulent, are vivid and realistic. The high school environment is funny and evocative, with the prom variously described as “a post-colonial patriarchy construct” and “a hormone-fueled benchmark of adolescence.” And there are very funny jokes about topics not often the subjects for humor: escrow and ASMR. 

The film's characters are endearing and expressive, with thoughtful, vivid detail (Connor’s hair is a wonder), all voiced with warmth and spirit. Ruby’s human legs have a slight rubbery elasticity suitable for a gawky teenager. As a Kraken with glowing suckers on her tentacles, her personality still shines through. Chelsea’s glorious red hair is a bit of a wink to Disney’s Ariel but also a signifier that this supremely confident high school alpha girl seems to have it all together while everyone else is just trying not to do anything too humiliating. Fonda is clearly having a blast as the Queen of the Oceans; she's supremely magisterial, a warrior at heart, but also a doting grandmother delighted to teach the newest heir to the Kraken legacy about her new world and her new powers. I got a particular kick out of Richardson’s Brill, the goofy but affectionate and always-on-your-side uncle everyone deserves. And watching Condor’s Ruby go from being ashamed and terrified to being proud of her authentic self should help us all wonder what more we are capable of. 

Now playing in theaters. 

Nell Minow

Nell Minow is the Contributing Editor at RogerEbert.com.

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Film Credits

Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken movie poster

Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken (2023)

Rated PG for some action, rude humor and thematic elements.

91 minutes

Cast

Lana Condor as Ruby Gillman (voice)

Toni Collette as Agatha Gillman (voice)

Annie Murphy as Chelsea Van Der Zee (voice)

Sam Richardson as Brill (voice)

Liza Koshy as Margo (voice)

Will Forte as Gordon Lighthouse (voice)

Colman Domingo as Arthur Gillman (voice)

Jaboukie Young-White as Connor (voice)

Blue Chapman as Sam Gillman (voice)

Eduardo Franco as Trevin (voice)

Ramona Young as Bliss (voice)

Echo Kellum as (voice)

Nicole Byer as (voice)

Jane Fonda as Grandmamah (voice)

Director

Co-Director

Writer

Cinematographer

Editor

Composer

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