Ruby Gillman, a sweet and awkward high school student, discovers she’s a direct descendant of the warrior kraken queens. The kraken are sworn to protect the oceans of the world against the vain, power-hungry mermaids. Destined to inherit the throne from her commanding grandmother, Ruby must use her newfound powers to protect those she loves most.
The protagonist of the clunkily named “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken,” a DreamWorks production directed by Kirk DeMicco, is a headstrong high schooler with a secret: She and her family are aquatic animals passing as humans. Desperate to fit into the social scene in her seaside town, Ruby (voiced by Lana Condor) dutifully keeps up the ruse, but gripes about her parents’ cardinal rule against going in the ocean.
Some evocative visual detail helps unify Ruby’s unruly world. The architectural design in her coastal hamlet is a considered hybrid of midcentury modern and nautical kitsch, and characters’ facial expressions are richly emotive. Underwater aesthetics are sadly sparer, accentuating the fluorescent marine fauna. Lurid neon blobs, like celebrity voice actors, seem a prerequisite for animated adventures these days.
One day, the teen tumbles into the waves and realizes their reason: Upon submergence, Ruby, like her mother (Toni Collette) and grandmother (Jane Fonda) before her, metamorphoses into a colossal tentacled sea creature. This device — conspicuously like the one in Pixar’s “Turning Red” — would be enough to motor a movie. “I’m a monster,” Ruby exclaims after a destructive mishap on terra firma, sending the needle on the viewer’s gauge for puberty metaphors flying into the red.