Producer: Kelly Cooney Cilella   Directors: Kirk DeMicco and Faryn Pearl   Screenplay: Pam Brady, Brian C. Brown and Elliott DiGuiseppi   Cast: Lana Condor, Toni Collette, Annie Murphy, Sam Richardson, Liza Koshy, Will Forte, Colman Domingo, Jaboukie Young-White, Blue Chapman, Eduardo Franco, Ramona Young, Echo Kellum, Nicole Byer and Jane Fonda   Distributor: Universal

Grade: C

There’s not much fun to be had in this peculiarly charmless, bombastic offering from DreamWorks Animation, which pits the legendary sea monsters, the kraken, against mermaids, though not in the fashion you might expect.  And their battle is set against the backdrop of an event you might consider unlikely (though, given teen-centered screenplay, it’s not)—a high-school prom. 

The school is in the town of Oceanside, where sophomore Ruby Gillman (voiced by Lana Condor) is forbidden to attend the celebration by her real-estate mother Agatha (Toni Collette) because it’s going to be held on a big party boat, and Ruby is not supposed to go near the water.  Why?  Because she’s a kraken in disguise—as are her mom, her father Arthur (Colman Domingo) and kid brother Sam (Blue Chapman).  They explain their unusual bluish hue by claiming to come from Canada, an excuse the dopey humans they commingle with accept without demur, save for volatile Gordon Lighthouse (Will Forte), a crusty old sailor who claims once to have encountered a kraken, takes tourists out on his boat to search for them—and is suspicious of all outsiders.

Ruby, a math whiz, has a trio of best buddies—drama queen Margot (Liza Koshy), goofy gamer Trevin (Eduardo Franco) and goth doomster Bliss (Ramona Young).  But they all bail on her plan to skip prom in unison, which only increases the shy girl’s depression over not being able to go with her crush, Connor (Jaboukie Young-White), the fluffy-haired skateboarder she tutors in algebra.

When Connor falls into the sea, Ruby jumps in and saves him.  Credit for the rescue, however, is claimed by the new girl in school, Chelsea (Annie Murphy), who turns out to be a mean-girl mermaid who cozies up to Ruby for nefarious reasons.  But our heroine has, by going into the water, turned into her giant-kraken form, and furious with Agatha for keeping the truth from her, she goes deep in the ocean to visit her prima donna Grandmamah (Jane Fonda), queen of the underwater realm, who tells her she’s a princess destined to succeed her.  She also informs Ruby that before choosing to reject her inheritance, leave for land and raise her family in peace, Agatha saved the sea from the evil mermaid queen by securing the all-powerful Trident of Oceanus where no one could reach it.

Ruby now senses her power—the movie is, like Pixar’s “Turning Red,” a parable about the onset of puberty—and Chelsea urges her to join her and find the Trident together.  Naturally it’s a malicious ploy, and only Grandmamah, Agatha and Ruby working together can foil Chelsea when she turns into a gigantic, apparently invincible opponent—a transformation Grandmamah predicts with what might be called the reverse of Darth Vader’s famous revelation to Luke Skywalker.

And while all this is going on, Agatha’s wacky brother Brill (Sam Richardson) turns up to serve as part supportive uncle, part purveyor of necessary exposition, and part semi-hero himself.

The usual kid-movie morals abound here—you can’t tell a book by its cover, family should stick together through rough passages, keep your head while navigating the path to maturity—but the curious thing is that, despite the fact that the title character is supposed to be an unconventional kind of fairy princess, the picture is unlikely to appeal much to its target audience of very young girls.  It’s not that Ruby is obnoxious, actually, but she is rather wan (in terms of personality, not appearance) and whiny. 

And the characters around her don’t offer much compensation. Richardson’s Brill, for example, is portrayed in such exaggeratedly goofy terms that you’re likely to be exhausted by him within a matter of seconds, and Forte’s sea captain isn’t far behind in that department.  Collette’s comic talents are wasted on straight-laced Agatha, and perhaps Fonda is simply doing too much of this aging-diva stuff to be able to keep it fresh—after all, it’s not long since her voice turn in “Luck.”

Nor is the computer animation sufficiently eye-popping to set “Ruby” apart from today’s general run of family-oriented cartoons.  It has a colorful sheen, but is hardly distinctive apart from the character designs headed by Carlos Fernandez Puertolas’ team, and the final stand-off is disappointingly rote.  John Gutman’s cinematography, Michelle Mendenhall’s editing and Stephane Economou’s score are all okay but unexceptional.

DreamWorks might have imagined that this could turn into a “Shrek”-type franchise, but that seems far-fetched.  More likely is that it will spawn one of those cable-based series that is dutifully made and just as dutifully watched by kids with too much time on their hands.  This “Ruby” gleams visually but overall lacks sparkle.