It is hard to be disappointed in a movie like Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken. In a year that, with some notable exceptions aside, has been relatively light on solid animated fare, there is something nice about just getting to take in a largely sweet story like this one. In many ways, considering the release from Pixar this year was quite formulaic, it feels like it could have emerged as one of 2023’s stronger studio animations on par with something like the terrific Turning Red. 

Alas, while not always defined by formula, it still ends up feeling frequently derivative and slight without putting in the time to dive deeper into its premise. The characters are consistently charming, the humor sufficiently silly, and the animation often beautiful, though the standard path it takes holds it back from fully exploring the potential lurking just beneath the surface. When it all bursts free towards the end is when the film is at its best.

The latest animation from DreamWorks, the studio behind the outstanding How to Train Your Dragon films and last year’s surprise hit that was Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, it follows the awkward yet ambitious Ruby Gillman (Lana Condor) as she tries to survive the normal challenges facing teenagers. Namely, she wants to ask her crush, Jaboukie Young-White's dreamy yet underdeveloped skater Connor, to prom. Though she is not nearly as suave as him, the fact that he also harbors feelings for her seems promising. The only problem? Ruby is not like other kids her age. Namely, she is a Kraken in disguise. Her parents, Toni Collette's Agatha and Colman Domingo's Arthur, are loving though often overbearing as they tell her she can’t go to the prom as it is taking place on the water which she is forbidden to go in.

 The cover story they provide to any who suspect they aren’t who they say they are, such as Will Forte's Captain Ahab-esque Gordon Lighthouse, is that they are actually from Canada. These excuses, punctuated by the occasional eh, hold just enough water to keep the family living a secretive life in their sleepy town by the sea. However, when Ruby must dive into said waters to save Connor after a well-intentioned promposal goes awry, her cover may soon be blown as she becomes a towering version of herself who gets swept up in a generational conflict.