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.
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.
But in this chaotic, family-friendly affair, a lone figurative image amid teenage drama will not do. Ruby soon ditches the shore, and her stresses expand to involve conniving mermaids, a salty, peg-legged seaman (Will Forte) and a magic trident tucked inside a submarine volcano. Not even the matriarchal link at the story’s center feels satisfying, its good intention strangled by the plotty chaos.
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.
Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken
Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. In theaters.