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The Media Man Reviews: Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken

Updated: Sep 24, 2023


Title card for my Ruby Gillman review

DreamWorks are in a good place in terms of critical and fan reception right now. After releasing two movies that have become fan-favourite films amongst the animation community (and annoyingly are used as a weapons to attack Disney with because people are arseholes like that), DreamWorks Animation has become one of the biggest talking points amongst the animation community with people still singing the praises of The Bad Guys and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. While I can't say I enjoyed The Bad Guys as much as everyone else, I do agree that Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is easily DreamWorks's best movie they've made since Kung Fu Panda 2 back in 2009 and so far remains my favourite animated film I've watched this year.


So with DreamWorks getting back on their feet lately, I knew I had to check this one out. Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is an interesting case for it's a purely original movie by DreamWorks not based on anything and apparently they were working on it for several years before it finally came out. I hadn't heard anything about this movie until the trailer dropped for it a few months ago. I was like "Oh, this is the next DreamWorks movie? OK...kinda out of nowhere but we'll see." XD


Also I like many people can't help but wonder if the movie is DreamWorks yet again mocking Disney with their villain being a red-haired mermaid. I mean the fact this came out the same year as Disney's remake of The Little Mermaid can't be a coincidence. This has to have been done on purpose. XD


So is this a movie that's as impressive to watch as a battle between mermaids and krakens? Or should we let this movie sink to the bottom of the sea never to be seen again? Let's find out. I'm the Media Man and we're swimming into Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken...


Section 1: The Story


The movie is all about Ruby Gillman, a teenager who is secretly a kraken and she learns that her race have been in conflict with mermaids for centuries. She is mentored by her grandmother to master the powers that she wields as a kraken and has to stop the mermaid threat before it's too late.


The story for this movie honestly sounds pretty interesting when you think about it. When's the last time we ever got a movie with mermaids vs. krakens for starters? And when's the last time you saw a movie where mermaids are the VILLAINS for a change? All this makes for a unique premise for an animated movie but does the execution do this idea justice? Eh...


NO.


The most important rule in story-telling is that it's not the idea that matters most, it's the execution. And this movie proves why execution is so important because it did this movie no favours whatsoever. What should've been a promising and cool concept ended up being executed in the most generic, bland and safe way imaginable. What do I mean by that? Let's count the ways shall we?


First of all, the plot is cliched and predictable to a ludicrous degree. Unlike last week's Elemental where that didn't hurt the movie too much and still made it enjoyable, it REALLY sullied this film's potential to be great because it has to be so paint-by-numbers. The plot feels like a mishmash of other animated movies. Let's say if you took the plot of The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, mixed it in with the cast and puberty metaphors of Turning Red and added in a sprinkle of Luca's concept and you pretty much get this movie. If a movie ends up reminding you of several other movies like it, then that shows how uncreative the story is and it makes the movie harder to be engaged with as a result. And the worst part is is that movies like Turning Red and Luca executed these ideas way better than this did.


Second of all, the movie's generic story-telling holds it back in the worst way imaginable. How so? Take the concept: it's a story about krakens vs. mermaids. They could've done so much with this concept and people even thought that the trailers were misleading in how the conflict was presented in such a black-and-white manner and that the actual conflict would be more morally grey. They SHOULD have done that...but they didn't. The krakens are good, the mermaids are evil. It's as disgustingly simplistic as that. No nuance or thought-provoking narrative to come out of it. It's especially strange they went in such a generic and safe direction because DreamWorks CAN make their movies more deep and compelling than this, I mean look at the Kung-Fu Panda movies or How To Train Your Dragon or especially Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. They took simple sounding concepts and made them more deeper and complex than they had any right to be and as a result, people loved them and they became major hits as a result! So if they can do it, why couldn't this movie?


If this movie had ANY chance of making anything interesting out of its premise then this is how it should've been done: Chelsea shouldn't have been the villain, the conflict with mermaids and krakens shouldn't be this black-and-white and Grandmamah SHOULD have been the antagonist instead. We could've gotten a thought-provoking story that teaches the importance of not giving into prejudices, not carrying on old grudges, that we should let go of the past and we should work for a better future. The conflict would've been more appealing if it was about krakens and mermaids learning to make peace with one another. But no, the mermaids have to be the villains and Grandmamah's prejudice is completely justified, which sends all kinds of icky implications and rancid morals to take away from it. Nice going DreamWorks. =P


There's also times where the plot just flat out doesn't make sense. Like are we SERIOUSLY meant to buy that the Gillmans can just live among humans and somehow nobody notices that they're clearly aquatic creatures? You're seriously telling us that they can overlook their obviously blue skin, tentacle like hair and fin like ears and not see anything odd about that? Grandmamah is right: humans ARE stupid but we're not THAT stupid! If this were real life, those people would've been outcasts the moment they set foot in human civilization! It's not like Luca where the sea monsters can don perfect human disguises so it made way more sense that they can blend in with humanity here. Oh no, we just have to accept that they can live among humans without anyone seeing them as odd or anything. It also doesn't make sense because of what the narrative tells us. We're TOLD that Ruby feels like she doesn't fit in and feels like a freak among her human friends but we're never SHOWN it. Nobody seems to discriminate against her, her family isn't shunned for their appearances or anything so what's this all about? Why didn't they just make them have perfect human disguises and save themselves digging up plot holes as a result? Yes it would've been too similar to Luca but it would still have the plot make more sense!


And don't get me started on the tone. Oh lord...the tone. I guess because it's titled "Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken", they have to make the tone as cringeworthy as possible to appeal to the younger audiences. They have a lot of typical dumb jokes that only millennials would find funny, an entire subplot about proms (as a fellow Brit, I fail to see what's so special about them), absolutely terrible dialogue and there's a lot of scenes where music is playing at inopportune times, and it's terrible cringey pop music at that! For example, the scene where Chelsea reveals her true colours. That's supposed to be an intense, shocking and frightening scene...and they ruin it by playing a godforsaken pop song over the scene! WHY?! That doesn't make your big villain reveal look any scarier or more shocking, it makes it look ridiculous! Can you imagine how less threatening Death would've looked in Puss in Boots: The Last Wish if they played a dumb rap song at the moment he reveals to Puss that he's literally Death itself? It would've killed the mood right then and there and taken away from what a shocking reveal it was, wouldn't it?! I'm not saying this movie should be super serious of course, that's not the kind of movie they're trying to make here. But they can go with a light-hearted tone without being so obnoxious about it.


So yeah, the plot is a copy-paste mess with a lot of missed opportunities to make something interesting out of it. Is there anything good about it? I liked Ruby's development over the course of the movie and her training to become stronger and to further develop her kraken powers. That was nice to watch at least.


Also Ruby and Chelsea's friendship was kinda cute...until they ruined it with that big reveal so yeah, thanks for ruining a really sweet relationship you had going there DreamWorks. What's worse is that they DID originally have the two as friends and Chelsea wasn't a twist villain so why they changed their minds on that, I will never understand.


And some of the humour was a little funny at least. I especially found "son of an anglerfish" to be a rather amusing way of cursing in the movie. I might say that myself in future. XD


And I guess the climax was pretty cool to watch but let's face it, we've all seen giant kaiju battles and given this is a family-friendly movie for all ages, they're not exactly going to go crazy with it. Still for what we got, it was pretty cool.


Aside from that, I really haven't got much to say that's good about the story. If they didn't execute it so poorly, it would've been a really interesting movie to watch and DreamWorks could've gotten another hit on their hands. As is, this will easily fall among their least interesting stories they've ever told...


Section 2: The Characters


Given the story is pretty bad, don't expect the characters to be any better my friends.


Let's start off with the titular character, Ruby Gillman (voiced by Lana Condor). Ruby feels like a copy of Mei Lee from Turning Red right down to the point where she has a transformation that makes her a giant creature that causes a lot of destruction as she tries to run away and hide and the transformation is even used as a metaphor for puberty. Even her adorkable nature is pretty similar to her and the fact she faces conflict with her mother makes her character arc kinda the same as Mei's. Unlike Mei however, Ruby's story is less engaging by comparison and her adorkable nature felt a little too played out for my tastes. I did enjoy watching her train and hone her Kraken abilities at least and there's nothing particularly detestable about her. But overall, she just feels like a lesser version of a better character from a better movie.


We have Ruby's parents Agatha Gillman (voiced by Toni Collette) and Arthur Gillman (voiced by Colman Domingo). If Ruby feels like a copy of Mei, then Agatha feels like a copy of Ming. Granted she's not as over-the-top or used as an antagonistic foil like Ming is but her arc is as super predictable and generic as it gets and she feels so underdeveloped in spite of everything. Like she's this powerful warrior that just left the ocean world and decided to live among humans. Why? Never explained. She just did and that was that. Arthur hasn't got much else to offer compared to Agatha so he's not worth going in to.


And now we move on to the villain of the movie, Chelsea (voiced by Annie Murphy), or should I say Queen Nerissa given that's who she really is. What's weird about her is that her being the villain was clearly meant to be a twist...only for the adverts to give it away. Like why would you do that? Granted they didn't spoil the twist of her actually being Queen Nerissa but still, if her being evil was meant to be a twist then why did they spoil it in the trailers? And what's worse is that the twist just ruins the character for me. They really had something interesting going for her by making her seem like typical attention-seeking girl who loves nothing more than flaunting her vanity only to have her turn out to be much nicer and not as shallow as she presents herself but for some unfathomable reason, someone in the writing team though, making her a twist villain was a good idea. And people gave Disney flack for that back in the 2010's. =P Again, Chelsea shouldn't have been the villain here and there shouldn't have been a big reveal regarding her.


Instead, the villain should've been Grandmamah (voiced by the legendary Jane Fonda). She's the queen of the oceans and is also a giant kraken herself. She seeks to protect the world from threats and has this deep-seated prejudice against mermaids for how evil they are. She should've been used as an example on how lifelong grudges only cause more harm to future generations and she needs to let go of her prejudice by seeing not all mermaids are bad...but no. She's absolutely justified in her hatred and mermaids are the bad guys. What kind of lesson is that to teach people? That if you're prejudiced, you're perfectly justified in being that way and that everyone in a single group is bad no matter what? She would've been a much stronger character if she was the villain instead of Chelsea.


The rest if the cast aren't really worth going over. Uncle Brill (voiced by Will Forte) is an annoying comic relief who acts like that one guy who won't leave the stage unless somebody laughs at him, Connor (voiced by Jaboukie Young-White) is the bland love interest, Ruby's friends are just a bunch of stereotypes that barely qualify as characters and like with Ruby and Agatha, feel like lesser versions of Mei's friends from Turning Red, Captain Gordon Lighthouse (voiced by Will Forte) is just a typical conspiracy nut whom like Uncle Brill is never funny and Sam Gillman (voiced by Blue Chapman) is Ruby's little brother who just...exists. That's all I can mention about him.


The characters are a hodgepodge of problems for they either feel like inferior rehashes of the cast of Turning Red or they feel like they've been given the wrong roles to play. If they weren't such copycats and the villains were switched around, we could've had a better cast of characters to tell this story with...


Section 3: The Animation


DreamWorks Animation has always been one of the best when it comes to animation. Easily in the top three along with Disney and Pixar for producing gorgeous looking animated movies and Ruby Gillman is another example of how good they are.


It's becoming depressingly common lately how when I talk about animated films and shows, the animation is like the one part I'm consistently praising while the writing is either great or terrible. Still, credit where credit is due and Ruby Gillman does give us another good looking movie from DreamWorks. I wouldn't say the animation is the studio's best ever but it's still great animation at least.


I'll cover the one gripe I have and move on to the good stuff, and that is the character designs. I dunno what it is but these character designs just don't look right to me. They kinda look a bit too cartoonish and they feel like designs that belong in a TV show rather than a movie. The end credits even gives us 2-D depictions of the characters and they look a lot better like that. If they didn't have such round heads and overly large pupils in their eyes, I might've been OK with them. The krakens are the better looking characters of the bunch for me whereas the humans, I have to agree look pretty weird here and not in a good way. Like why does Connor have such a large nose and an elongated face? There's no reason for him to look so odd and again, it's a design that looks better on paper than in CGI. It's funny how the only human design that looks fine to me is Chelsea, and she's actually a mermaid!


But that's the only nitpick I have. The rest of the animation is perfectly fine in spite of the character designs. The character animation at least makes the most of the designs with a lot of lively movements and expressive faces. The krakens especially look cool, mostly the giant ones where their bodies become more bright and colourful and they have multiple legs to swim with. I would enjoy watching Ruby, Grandmamah and Agatha in those forms whenever they were onscreen like that. I also like how the krakens are very flexible and bendy too as it allows for the animators to give them more creative and energetic movements to them which shows a lot more personality and expressions as a result.


The backgrounds are well-detailed and also full of colour, specially in the seaside town the Gillmans live in and even the school they go to is surprisingly colourful and also has a somewhat unique design for a high school, they I'd probably say it looks like it should be a design for a school aimed at younger kids than a high school with the rather childish looking architecture. Still, it was rather nice to look at the town and see all the details everywhere. I even found it pretty neat seeing Agatha selling her houses as part of her real estate job. The houses she's seen selling even look nice to live in, which is great of the animators to pull off if they can make it look convincing that she'd be able to convince these people to buy a house that looks as nice as these ones. We do get an underwater world but honestly, we should've seen more of it. We don't spend enough time in it and all we see pretty much is just the queen's palace and the hiding place of the trident and that's it. From what we do see, it's a beautifully colourful place to see and also looks like a believable underwater world. The hiding place of the trident also convincingly looks like a place that radiates power and that it'd be impossible for anyone other than a kraken to make their way through it, and even for krakens it's a tough job!


The animation also has a lot of great effects with realistic looking lightning, realistic looking water effects, convincing looking textures and of course, the glowing effects on the bodies of the giant krakens and Queen Nerissa. I can't imagine it was easy to animate all the water in this movie so the animators deserve major kudos for all the work they put into it and the glowing effects make everything just pop onscreen so beautifully.


And of course, we have the action scenes. There's not a whole lot of them but they're well-handled whenever we see them. Ruby's struggle to get the trident looks like a genuine struggle against powerful forces and the climax between the krakens and Queen Nerissa was pretty cool with the giants tussling amongst each other in the water with the humans getting caught up in their crossfire. You can especially feel the weight of their movements as they attack each other which further sells that this a battle among literal giants.


Th animation may have some issues with the character designs but everything else is well done and I have no complaints with. DreamWorks are always able to make their films look good and this one is no exception.


Overall


Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is the prime example of how execution can make or break a movie. I didn't hate it, but I didn't like it either. I feel pretty much nothing other than disappointment towards it because it could've and SHOULD have been so much better than this. The story is a mess, the characters feel like inferior rehashes of the cast of Turning Red, the wrong character ends up being the villain, the conflict is childishly simplistic and the tone is only adding salt to an open wound. The animation is pretty and nice to look at yes but I wish that wasn't the extant of my praise. DreamWorks can and HAS done better than this and I can only hope they'll improve on their next movie...oh wait, it's a third Trolls movie. Never mind. Hopefully the next one after THAT will be an improvement...


And that's all I have for this review. Hope you enjoyed reading and I would like to hear your thoughts down below. Do you like this movie? Is it not for you? Comment away.


Join me again tomorrow for we return to the Shatterverse to review Sonic Prime Season 2. See you then everyone!


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2 comentários


Convidado:
20 de jul. de 2023

Gosh, rap songs, cringe humour, yeah, not my kind of film.

Curtir

Well, I know what I'm not watching on my next movie trip. Sad, sounds like wasted potential.

Curtir
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