Trailer Premiere: Director Kirk DeMicco and Producer Kelly Cooney Cilella Give Us the Scoop on DreamWorks’ ‘Ruby Gillman: Teenage Kraken’

This summer’s animated battle royale is going to be between the underdog kraken monsters and the popular (and self-involved) mermaids. That’s according to Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken, DreamWorks Animation’s latest movie which will be released in theaters on June 30. The summer release, which was originally titled Meet the Gillmans, is directed by Oscar-nominated Kirk DeMicco (The Croods, Vivo, Space Chimps), produced by Kelly Cooney Cilella (Bilby, Trolls World Tour) and co-directed by Faryn Pearl (storyboard artist on Trolls World Tour).

The voice cast includes Lana Condor as Ruby, Jane Fonda as her commanding Grandmama, Toni Collette as her overprotective mother, Will Forte, Liza Koshy, Annie Murphy, Sam Richardson, Colman Domingo, Jaboukie Young-White, Blue Chapman, Eduardo Franco, Ramona Young, Echo Kellum and Nicole Byer.

The story centers on a shy 16-year-old misfit named Ruby Gillman (Condor) who learns that she is the next in a legendary line of royal sea krakens. Ruby struggles even more to fit in because her mother (Collette) forbids her from going to the beach with her peers. But soon Ruby learns that she’s descended from the warrior kraken queens and will one day ascend to her grandmother’s throne (voiced by Fonda) as the Warrior Queen of the Seven Seas.

Lana Candor (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy) voices Ruby Gillman: Teenage Kraken in DreamWorks Animation’s big summer feature, directed by Kirk DeMicco. (Image: DreamWorks Animation)

Since the film’s first trailer debuts today, film’s director Kirk DeMicco and producer Kelly Cooney Cilella were kind enough to have a quick chat with us to whet our appetite for the summer pic. Here is what they told us:

Animation Magazine: So, finally, the cat is out of the bag and we can all see what you’ve been working on for the past few years. Can you tell us a bit about Ruby Gillman and what excited you about this project?

Kelly Cooney Cillela Eric Charbonneau
Kelly Cooney Cillela
[ph: Eric Charbonneau]
Kelly Cooney Cilella: This movie has been in the works for several years now. It started as a pitch to the studio about a family of sea monsters that have moved to the land and are hiding in plain sight. As we came on board the project, we started honing in on Ruby’s story and telling it from her point of view. I’m excited that this is DreamWorks’ first titular female character and her name is right there in the title of the movie.

Our heroine is such a lovable character and I’m so excited for audiences to meet her and fall in love with her the way we have, because she starts the movie as a quirky, slightly insecure but bighearted character, but she’s harboring a secret that she can’t tell her friends. But ultimately the kraken is awakened inside her and there’s no hiding this. She learns that her destiny is so much more than being an average high school teenager, and she’s destined to be the next big protector of the seas. Her journey is self discovery and embracing that side of her that had been dormant for so long, and for her to become a fully actualized character was such an exciting story for me to tell on such a grand scale.

Fantastic. Kirk, maybe you can talk about the animation and how it continues the recent trend we’ve seen in DreamWorks’ movies to really push the envelope and experiment with what CG animation can look like these days?

Kirk DeMicco
Kirk DeMicco

Kirk DeMicco: What we loved about this movie from the get-go was that we were starting out with a genre that was much loved by all of us, a true teen comedy in the vein of a John Hughes film, or more recently, Easy A, Ladybird or Book Smart. So, this is a teen comedy about a girl who doesn’t fit in and comes in contact with this new girl, who is this mean girl, but the story that Kelly described is a story of discovery for our lead character. She finds this strength and power. [We were] working from that and knowing that we had to build a film with two separate worlds, the underwater and above water world. Our production designer was Pierre-Olivier Vincent who did all the How to Train Your Dragon movies. He’s an expert in worldbuilding. He found inspiration for the main character in the body of the octopus and he brought that curviness to all the design language of the film, from the cars and refrigerator to the characters, their school and to the underwater world itself.

Then, carrying that through, our head of animation Carlos Puertolas (Boss Baby movies) was very excited about finding that contrast between the fluidity of a family of humans (sea monsters without bones) and that sort of fun we could have with squash and stretch both for comedic purposes and for style and how that can translate when the scale goes to the nth degree when they transform to giant krakens underwater. You can see a little bit of that in the trailer with Grandmama (played by Jane Fonda) and Ruby Gilman’s giant version. There’s this elegance to them, there’s this ballet quality as they move through the water. They are these giant kaiju size characters, but they move elegantly and they’re beautifully lit. That’s the spirit we wanted Ruby’s journey to be aspirational although it was very difficult.

Our heroine’s nemesis is a popular mermaid (voiced by Annie Murphy) who mocks Ruby’s fantastic powers. (Image: DreamWorks Animation)

How did the setting and the kraken world allow you to really raise the bar in terms of all the underwater visuals?

Kirk: The other part that DreamWorks Animation does so well is creating the big-scale effects that we can bring to the story. In the trailer, you can see this mermaid (played by Annie Murphy), you have this kaiju battle where these two monsters are doing battle, and the VFX team had to come up with this idea that her hair is generated completely by the water. It’s really astonishing, it was really fun to work with. You will see this underwater magnetic volcano that Ruby has to learn to navigate through, which has a completely different palette and energy force. That challenge to come up with something that is a complete slate-wiper: A kraken is so big and strong that she can stop time, so we had to up our game when it came to creating set pieces and understanding that adventure. Of course, the emotional story underneath the adventure is the most important, but at the end of the day, as an animation studio we want to push the boundaries when it comes to scale and scope to make it a strong theatrical event.

Are we going to see the mixing of CG and 2D visuals in the film?

Kirk: We have little moments … There are flights of fantasy moments they have a more of a TikTok 2D look. We have a lot of contemporary music featured in the movie. While this is a fantasy world, it’s all about teenagers. That was the best thing about showing the movie in screenings: Kids could hear themselves in it. They found it relatable. Keeping that fresh and modern and contemporary — in that 2D exploration is what kids would do with their animation on their phones. You’ll see as things progress. There are plenty of opportunities to ground it in today’s teen culture in its own whimsical way.

What do you hope audiences will take home from their Ruby Gillman experience?

Kirk: This is a movie with three generations of strong women. It has this opportunity to say it’s a superhero origin story about a girl who doesn’t look completely ordinary, but she feels very ordinary in her own skin until she finds out that she has this power that is awakened inside of her — a power that she’s afraid to tell her friends about. She does want to hide this from her boyfriend. These are things that we’re excited about. I have a daughter and it’s great to tell a story that our daughters can see themselves in, with the message being don’t be afraid to shine your light, no matter what the cost might be.

Kelly: I want the movie to take the same journey as Ruby does. I want it to start as a quiet movie that not many people know about, and then it becomes this kaiju battle of the summer that takes down the competition!

Watch the brand-new trailer below:



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