Ruby Gillman: Teenage Kraken filmmakers break down the DreamWorks movie's new trailer, working with Jane Fonda, and flipping expectations

The first trailer for the upcoming DreamWorks new movie Ruby Gillman: Teenage Kraken is here, and it teases an epic coming-of-age story. The footage, which you can watch above, marks the first real look at the animated story about a teenage sea monster in hiding, and also introduces its star-studded voice cast.

The teaser begins in the ocean as Jane Fonda's voiceover warns us to forget everything we know about the feared sea monster, the Kraken. They're not the evil beasts feared by many, but are actually brave and honorable creatures, and, as it turns out, one is hiding as a teenage girl called Ruby, too. Voiced by To All The Boys I've Loved Before star Lana Condor, Ruby just wants to blend in and live a normal high school life, but when evil mermaid Chelsea (Annie Murphy) warns her she knows her secret, it seems she may have to confront who she really is.

Total Film sat down with director Kirk DeMicco and producer Kelly Cooney Cilella to chat through the new trailer. We cover everything from the specific look they wanted to create with the new DreamWorks animation, wanting to tell a female-led coming-of-age story, and working with Fonda, Toni Collette, and the rest of the voice cast. For that and plenty more besides, here’s our conversation with the filmmakers, edited for length and clarity.

Ruby Gillman: Teenage Kraken

(Image credit: Universal)

The trailer opens with a voiceover emphasizing how the ocean is a mysterious world. Why did you decide to open it like this, and what did you want to achieve when creating the look of the movie's underwater world?

Kirk DeMicco: Well, the one that we start with in the trailer was really was part of the idea that our production designer, Pierre-Olivier Vincent, had from the very beginning, which was to show this world that was very much inspired shape-wise by the octopus and the curviness of the octopus. The curviness of all of our design, whether it's characters or if it's plants, or if it's the real-world buildings of Oceanside, and the Kraken Kingdom, was to have this opportunity that felt like we were taking the audience and transporting them somewhere. 

So the idea of going through a thing that we see and we recognize is jellyfish, but making a very, very different sort of presentation on how they're moving and how they're sweeping through the ocean to pull the audience in, it was a really amazing thing to see.

I think the trick of our movie is that we feel underwater so we have the stakes. This movie is about a girl who is discovering these incredible powers, these almost superhero-like powers, and she's fighting to save her world and the underwater kingdom. So we had to keep it constantly feeling like we would understand those stakes in the physics of how we move through the water and how fish moved through the water. We're playful with it when you meet the Kraken and all that, but the idea is that at first blush that the world you see is something you should recognize. 

This underwater world is contrasted with that of Oceanside, which is where Ruby lives outside of the water. Ruby looks very different in this world and like she's trying to make herself smaller in this brightly colored town. How important was it to introduce those visual differences between those two?

Kelly Cooney Cilella : Yeah, I think that's exactly right, I think you completely hit on the contrast between the two. When she's under the water and she can be free to be who she really is, it's expansive and it's transformative for her. Whereas on land she has to struggle to fit in, she has to hide that kind of tubular bendiness that she has being a cephalopod. And so, both in the design and in the animation style, we worked really hard to push that and really make sure that we were always keeping that contrast in mind. 

When she's with the other teenagers at high school, a lot of them are very solid and very kind of rooted to the ground. So their style is different than hers, which is just kind of more lithe and bendy. We're always trying to push that but also still keep it within believability that she could blend in in high school. 

I think the other thing we tried to do with the character design of the teenagers is that we really wanted them to look like the teenagers we see now right? They have different colored hair and they dress in funky outfits. So I think that helped us create a world in which you could believe that this character that is blue could potentially blend in.

Ruby Gillman: Teenage Kraken

(Image credit: Universal)

You've got such an amazing voice cast for the movie, did these actors bring anything to these characters that you weren't expecting?

Kelly Cooney Cilella : Yeah, definitely, starting with Lana Condor who does the voice for Ruby. I mostly knew her from the To All The Boys series of films on Netflix. I just think that she was so charming in those films, and I loved how she was the hero but she also was quirky at the same time. And so, you know, when she started recording with us, she brought that part of herself to the character and so we were able to write more for her and play into kind of that awkwardness. She was just a great collaborator in terms of defining that character. Then the same with Annie Murphy, who plays Chelsea the villain. Annie has that same kind of effervescent quality about her that Chelsea has where you are just drawn to her.

Kirk DeMicco: You're drawn to her until she turns and then you're scared and then you want to run out of the room, she is so good at it. Like she just dug into the wicked evil side of this villain at the end. She transforms into this villain, it's really amazing acting, especially with vocal performance because it has such a range.

Kelly Cooney: And then just to speak to a couple of the other leads in the movie. Toni Collette plays Ruby's mom, Agatha. With Agatha, she's a very overprotective mom, as many moms are, but she is doing it in a way that it's because it's what she thinks is best for her family and that it's at its core it's about her love for her family. I think Toni is such a skilled actress that she can play that vulnerability and that sensitivity while still being a force to be reckoned with. So this mother gave up her life under the sea and moved her family to land to protect them. And then on top of that, you have Jane Fonda playing the grandmama, so you have a third generation of powerful females.

It was great to see Ruby surrounded by these powerful women, each in their own right, who have the best of intentions, and at times might be slightly misguided and they're sort of forcing her into following whatever direction they think is best for her, but that ultimately Ruby has to choose for herself. What is her path forward and who is she at her core? I think that's what's to me is the thing that is most appealing, having a young daughter myself, is being able to deliver the story that's a coming-of-age story where Ruby really becomes the hero and she really embraces who she is at her core. She is able to end the movie in a completely self-actualized way where she's taken little bits from all of these strong women in her life, but she has sort of synthesized them into her own point of view, which I think is a really powerful message for girls right now.

The Kraken is quite a unique part of mythology that doesn't really get adapted very much. How was it delving into that, and also flipping expectations by making mermaids the antagonists?

Kelly Cooney Cilella : Yeah, I think it's something that DreamWorks has a long history of doing, subverting the expectations of characters that you think you know and showing them a side potentially that you didn't know could exist. So that was definitely one of the things that was really appealing to us. How can you take this mythical mighty Kraken, sinker of ships, drowner of sailors, and turn it into something that is aspirational and powerful? You know, perhaps history has gotten it wrong, and they've just been the victims of really bad PR.

Then on the flip side with the mermaid, it's an opportunity to take what you think is just this beautiful shiny thing, but underneath it is sort of an evil underbelly. Taking that kind of high school trope of a mean girl, and the wars that girls sometimes have in high school, and being able to show that on a grand scale and this epic way was just really exciting for us.

For more upcoming movies, here's our breakdown of 2023 movie release dates.

Fay Watson
Deputy Entertainment Editor

I’m the Deputy Entertainment Editor here at GamesRadar+, covering TV and film for the Total Film and SFX sections online. I previously worked as a Senior Showbiz Reporter and SEO TV reporter at Express Online for three years. I've also written for The Resident magazines and Amateur Photographer, before specializing in entertainment.