DreamWorks Continues to ‘Subvert the Hero’s Journey’ With ‘Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken’ and ‘Orion and the Dark’ 

DreamWorks Animation is committing to “subverting the hero’s journey,” said president Margie Cohn at Annecy, introducing “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” and “Orion and the Dark.”

One of the big U.S. world premieres at Annecy, the world’s biggest animation festival, “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” featured at a DreamWorks Animation studio focus at Annecy, the world’s biggest animation festival.

“DreamWorks has a long tradition of taking an unlikely hero, like a chubby panda or an ogre with a heart of gold, and subverting your expectations. We will take what you think might be an evil sea monster and convince you she is actually the hero,” “Ruby Gillman” producer, Kelly Cooney Cilella, added.

Commenting also on the company’s long list of strong female characters, from Princess Fiona to Princess Poppy from “Trolls, she added that “We think Ruby is next. And this time, she is in the title.”

In the film, teenage Ruby – who is already hiding on the land with her family of sea creatures – finds out about yet another secret: she is, in fact, a Kraken. Soon, she is trying to balance two worlds with the help of her powerful grandmother, voiced by Jane Fonda.

“For centuries, these creatures have been maligned and told they were the sinkers of ships and the drowners of sailors. But shouldn’t we be challenging all these assumptions in 2023? What if these weren’t monsters but merely the victims of a terrible PR crisis? They weren’t the terrors of the sea: They were the protectors,” noted director Kirk DeMicco. 

Looking for inspiration, the team went underwater.

“We thought about where the legends of yore took their inspiration from: it was the octopus. We searched the web to give you the cutest octopus imaginable, to really show how bad this PR campaign was,” added co-director Faryn Pearl, opening up about the idea to combine “octopus qualities and everything any teenager can experience.”

“To me, the idea of twisting into yourself, making yourself small, felt like a perfect way to start our movie.”

But if Ruby was an unlikely hero, she needed an unlikely antagonist, too. 

“We are telling a story about a girl who feels like a monster. But mermaids are the mean girls of the sea,” said Pearl. 

While “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken,” set to premiere at the end of June following its Annecy showing, is an original story – “There is no existing IP,” stressed Cooney Cilella – another DreamWorks’ offering, “Orion and the Dark,” is based on a book by Emma Yarlett.

“It will blow you away,” promised Cohn. 

“It’s an incredibly original, visually stunning, smart and intimate movie that you might not expect from DreamWorks Animation.”

Set to be released on Netflix in 2024, it focuses on a boy (voiced by “Room’s” Jacob Tremblay) who is, well, afraid of just about everything.

“He seems like your average elementary school kid: Shy, unassuming, harboring a secret crush. But under this seemingly normal exterior Orion is a ball of adolescent anxiety, completely consumed by irrational fears. The thing he is most afraid of is the dark,” explained director Sean Charmatz.

Then, one night, the Dark himself whisks him away, trying to prove he is nothing to be afraid of. Cult filmmaker Charlie Kaufman is behind the script.

Production designer Tim Lamb called Dark “a layered character that’s misunderstood.”

“He needs to represent Orion’s fears, which in the story is ultimately death. We thought it was a good idea to make him look almost like the Grim Reaper. But once you get to know him, he is almost more like a muppet.”

“The way Charlie described Dark in the story, he used a lot of inky adjectives. So we started filming ink drop videos in our garages,” added Charmatz, also mentioning other characters: Insomnia, Sleep, Quiet, Dreams and Unexplained Noises (“the ultimate foley artist, hiding behind garbage cans.”) 

“It’s not very often that you get to work on a project professionally that aligns with your own personal taste in art. We were very lucky that the three of us loved a lot of the same artists,” noted art director Christine Bian, discussing the “warm and handmade” look of the film set in the 1990s. 

Margie Cohn, addressing audience, added: “Last year, in 2022, we debuted two distinctively gorgeous films that looked nothing like each other. But they did have one thing in common: Rave reviews from critics and audiences globally,” she said, mentioning “The Bad Guys” and “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.” 

“They exemplify our studio’s vision, which we are carrying forward in 2023. We are expanding and reimagining our franchises, while forging a daring path with daring, delightful and deeply personal originals. While everybody loves a franchise, each generation wants an original for their own original touchstone.”

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