Last week, we spoke with director Kirk DeMicco about his new Dreamworks movie, Ruby Gillman Teenage Kraken, now out in theaters. DeMicco’s work includes one of Dreamworks‘ biggest successes, The Croods, but also Space Chimps and Vivo.
Kirk DeMicco on Ruby Gillman: The Teenage Kraken
Kirk DeMicco also shared with us his thoughts on live-action remakes and adaptations (Dreamworks is also getting the live-action treatment with How To Train Your Dragon -slated for March 2025-), but also on some animated movies landing straight to VOD and streaming platforms, instead of getting a theatrical release these past few years.
I love animated films, and I am a big fan of Dreamworks, I absolutely love the Croods, How to Train Your Dragon… Every time I watch these movies, it takes me back to some great memories; for example, the music of John Powell in How To Train Your Dragon brings me to tears every time, but I also realize that every time I watch some of these movies with a new point of view, it’s never twice the same experience. For you as a writer and director, with every new project, do you also see your perspective change and your way of making animated films changing as well?
Kirk DeMicco: God, that’s a great question. I think so because for me, the transition was with The Croods in 2013, and that’s when my twins were born. Now it’s 2023, and they’re 10 years old, so being a father, that has a lot to do with the opportunity to make a mother-daughter story, and a story about the first female lead in a Dreamwork movie was very important to me. It’s a movie I can enjoy with my daughter, an incredible cast and actresses. Yeah, it was the opportunity to do something we hadn’t done before in a Dreamwork movie, more of a contemporary teenager story and contemporary music (…) it has original songs. (…) It felt like a new sort of space for us, as a studio.
I’d like to speak about live-action movies because obviously, these last few years, many Disney animated classics have been adapted as live-action, and Dreamworks is also getting the live action-treatment for How To Train Your Dragon. Has it ever been part of a conversation for you, or would you like the occasion to work on a live-action in the future? If someone wanted to see a live-action of The Croods, for example, or in a few years from now, a live-action of Ruby Gillman, what do you think would be your reaction?
Kirk DeMicco: I think that’s a really… I mean, it’s a super cool opportunity of course, but it’s a different set of rules, you know what I mean? We have more ability to bend believability in our genre, working with animation, our medium. I think the live-action (…) set new challenges for storytelling. I’m super excited for what they’re doing with How To Train Your Dragon, very excited to see what that is. I think this is very much an opportunity, because (…) families, when they relate to characters, that is the most important, right? Our job is to tell stories about great characters, so any way you can show an audience a new version of that, a new angle of it, that’s fantastic.
We often hear that it’s very easy to cry watching animated movies because I think it’s because they speak to us in a way some live-action movies can’t; maybe it’s because they are using the language the visuals we grew up watching. So, maybe animated films still speak to our inner child, even if the topic is very much an ‘’adult’’ problem or a universal problem, you know, like grief, tolerance, equality, first love, troubles at schools, and so on… Do you think we might lose some of these feelings with live-action versions of these animated films?
Kirk DeMicco: Well, you definitely hit a point because I think animation has a very special place because it does work on a more creative, primal level of the art; it’s the first original thoughts and memories of storytelling (…) The first stories that were printed upon our consciousness as children, were in story books. That’s how we read to our kids, that’s how we were read to (…) they’re pretty much-drawn artwork (…). There’s something about painting and art that, when interrogated by the hand, an artist’s hand, works on a different part of your brain. I think you drop your guard even, maybe? That’s exactly what you said, I’m repeating what you said, but that made a lot of sense [laughing]. So, you’re dropping your guard, and I think it’s very important in this day and age. To me, that’s why theaters are so important, you know, a dark room, with a communal experience, because when you go on, hopefully, you (…) get to work on your subconscious. Yeah, that was a good point, and I 100% agree with you about animation; that was well said. I think that’s the power of it.
What was it like for you to be able to premiere the film at The Animated Film Festival of Annecy and to have people actually be able to enjoy your movie on the big screen? Because these last couple of years, many animated films landed directly on streaming platforms, and I am personally not a big fan of this method for many reasons, but mainly because I hate the idea that animated films can be seen as a subgenre, that doesn’t necessarily deserve a big screen when we actually all grew up on these animated film, they literally raised us in a way. So what was this experience like for you?
Kirk DeMicco: It’s a great honor, especially being surrounded by lovers of what we do, lovers of animated movies. And so the communal… I mean, I had one of those movies on a streaming platform [laughing]. I know what you’re talking about. Here, I had an opportunity to make a movie that would be enjoyed in a theater. Especially a movie like this, it’s a mother, daughter, granddaughter story. (…) We wanna make a movie that has something for everyone; we don’t wanna exclude anyone, right? There’s storytelling that resonates with different (…) levels of our audience. (…) The scene between Jane Fonda and Toni Collette will definitely resonate with a certain part of our audience, a lot stronger, a lot harder. It’s a shared experience.
If you could take another monster, or another classic, famous, beloved character, from a fairytale or from the mythology, and change their story like you did in Ruby Gillman, which one would it be, and what would you do with these characters?
Kirk DeMicco: Oh you know, I don’t know what I would do, but I’ve always been a huge fan of, well, An American Werewolf in London; it’s one of my favorite movies [laughing]. (…) I think that I love stories about identity and transformation because it’s all part of that metaphor, and I know it’s got a wildly vicious side to it, which I think would be fun to explore and a darkness that’s very exciting. (…) Yeah, werewolves would be awesome.
I love that mermaids are evil in Ruby Gillman: The Teenage Kraken! And obviously, Chelsea, our red-haired, fake friend/ real mermaid, is, in many ways, a nod to Ariel. How fun was that for you to be able to take inspiration from beloved classic animated characters or to take the myth of the Kraken, to twist it around, do something new with them, to reinvent their lives?
Kirk DeMicco: It was great because it’s part of Dreamworks creations, to subvert the tropes, you know. A kraken is typically the monster, and to give this very sweet, very emotional young woman this burden, it felt like such a challenge. And that’s what you’re looking for, right? It’s like the character’s challenge. And as far as the mermaid, you know, I love Mean Girls, those high school movies with the most popular girl running the school, and it just had to be a mermaid. We’re so lucky to have Annie Murphy play Chelsea because she brought so much personality and danger.
And we all know Chelsea, I mean, we’ve been to high school; everyone knows a Chelsea!
Kirk DeMicco: [Laughing] Yeah, exactly! [laughing]
I really enjoyed the color palette in Ruby Gillman: We’ve got some very vibrant, electric colors, neon lights. When does that kind of decision happen? Is it something that’s on the storyboard from the start, or is it part of a later conversation?
Kirk DeMicco: You know, we’ve been very lucky with Pierre-Olivier Vincent, our production designer, he was first putting together images, and you know, telling the story through color (…) We wanted to give the underwater the appeal that it deserves. The bioluminescence, which is not only super appealing, but it also made a lot of sense storytelling wise, because if you’re a girl just trying to be invisible at the beginning of the movie, the worst that can happen is to be 300 ft tall, and the second worst thing would be to be a glowing kraken because there’s nowhere to hide. So, that forced her (…) to grow. And I love when the metaphors is pushing against the character and forcing them to grow through color (…) through animation.
Thank you so much for joining me today! I’m so happy that you’ll be able to enjoy it on the big screen, with the public, and with your daughter!
Kirk DeMicco: Yes, thank you! [laughing] I really had fun talking to you, we’ll talk soon again!