Review: “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” is a little waterlogged

Early on in the development of the digitally animated, theater-bound film “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken,” the story is said to have centered more on the titular character’s family, all of whom are secretly krakens.

The pivot to an emphasis on Ruby — a 16-year-old high school student having to hide the fact she is, in fact, of the sea while navigating the highs and lows of adolescence — was a wise one. Although that focus isn’t sharp enough, the movie spending too much time on side characters, Ruby is the biggest reason this saltwater-flavored coming-of-age story stays afloat.

Residing in the self-explanatory town of Oceanside, the Gillmans seem a little odd but attempt to chalk that up to their cover story: that they’re originally from Canada. (We’re pretty sure Canadians don’t have fin-like ears, but whatever.)

Voiced by Lana Condor (“To All the Boys I’ve Loved”), Ruby is a relatable delight. Sweet, smart, shy, insecure and at least a little awkward, she admits she is “barely pulling off this human thing.”

She really wants to go to prom along with a trio of close friends — even if prom is “a post-colonial patriarchal construct.” Unfortunately for Ruby, her mom, Agatha (Toni Collette), has worked to keep her away from the water, and with prom taking place aboard a boat, it’s a no-go.

After her pals convince Ruby to go without permission, she works up the nerve to present her skater-boy crush, Connor (Jaboukie Young-White) — whom the mathlete tutors and who seems to be interested in her — with an elaborate prom-posal. Let’s just say it doesn’t go smoothly, with Ruby having to dive into the water to rescue Connor from drowning.

The salt water awakens hidden physical traits in her that she subsequently must try to hide from her schoolmates. Meanwhile, a new girl — the “stunning but approachable” Chelsea (Annie Murphy of “Schitt’s Creek” and the buzz-generating “Black Mirror” episode “Joan Is Awful”) — takes credit for Connor’s rescue.

Ruby quickly has bigger problems than Chelsea in that, well, she’s become a giant kraken, a trait Agatha assures her is temporary and that Ruby can learn to control.

After she shrinks, though, she is understandably consumed with knowing more about the family roots her mother has hidden from her, which leads Ruby back into the sea and to an introduction to her powerful grandmother (Jane Fonda). The latter is the Warrior Queen of the Seven Seas, but she prefers Ruby call her “Grandmamah.”

Turns out Grandmamah has been waiting for Ruby to embrace her royal destiny, which is exactly what Agatha doesn’t want. Ruby also gets pushed in a certain aquatic direction by Chelsea, who, wouldn’t you know it, actually is a mermaid — the hated enemy of the kraken.

With a bit more refinement, the latest effort from director Kirk DeMicco (“The Croods”), with co-director Faryn Pearl (“The Croods: A New Age”), could have made more of Ruby’s kraken-ish turn as a metaphor for womanhood. Sure, her father, Arthur (Colman Domingo, “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts”), refers to this phase of her life as her “blossoming,” but this effort from DreamWorks Animation doesn’t lean into this territory to the degree last year’s “Turning Red,” from Disney affiliate Pixar Animation Studios, did.

The screenplay by Pam Brady (“The Loop”), Brian C. Brown (“Briarpatch”) and Elliott Diguiseppi (“Lucy in the Sky”) (with “additional screenplay material” credited to Meghan Malloy, Michael McCullers, DeMicco and Pearl) crams in too much filler. Most notably, time devoted to Gordon Lighthouse (Will Forte, “The Last Man on Earth”), a kraken-obsessed and surprisingly social media-savvy boat captain, is good for little more than a few little chuckles.

A bit more entertainment is squeezed from Lucy’s goofball uncle, Brill, thanks largely to the voice work of the always-funny Sam Richardson (“Veep,” “The Afterparty”).

Also, Fonda (“Book Club: The Next Chapter”) brings the needed weight to her larger-than-life character, while the dependable Collette (“Unbelievable”) offers the warmth Agatha requires.

“Ruby Gillman” isn’t anything special in the looks department, at least by today’s lofty standards, with the arguable exception of some phosphorescent-like effects under the sea.

That said, the appealing character design of Ruby is just one reason you’re left wanting even more time with this teenage kraken.

There’s probably a little bit of Ruby in all of us, but there’s a LOT of her in her, and she’s worth meeting.

‘Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken’

Where: Theaters.

When: June 30.

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

Runtime: 1 hour, 31 minutes.

Stars (of four): 2.5.

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