PG Score: 8/10
Raya and the Last Dragon was released in theaters on 3/5 and is available for streaming on Disney+ with Premier Access. It can be streamed at no additional cost starting 6/4/21.
Raya and the Last Dragon is a fun, family adventure that blends popular elements from past Disney projects with plenty of fresh material. In doing so, it ensures a familiar and welcomed reaction from viewers without relying too heavily on a recycled formula.
The tale takes place in the fictional region of Kumandra, where humans and dragons lived peacefully until dangerous spirits called Druun forced the latter to sacrifice themselves to protect mankind. 500 years later, the ancient evil has returned, and it is up to a lone warrior named Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) to locate the final dragon to stop the Druun once and for all.
Animation & More
The visuals are, in a word, stunning. Disney has really raised the bar as the gorgeous vistas and detailed characters are flawlessly showcased. The color palettes, environmental effects, action sequences, character movements, and clothing, are all remarkably captured down to the very last intricacy. The scenery is so arresting that it’s easy to become entranced by the background imagery rather than focusing all attention on a conversation between characters, for example. This is not a knock on the writing, but rather a salute to the production team as the Southeast Asian-inspired locales are truly depicted in all their breathtaking splendor. Raya and the Last Dragon is a beautiful film to look at.
It also feeds off a steady diet of well-choreographed martial arts action, hearty laughs, and earnest drama. The movie competently spreads these ingredients out over the course of the 107-minute runtime and avoids overdoing it in any one area. Furthermore, the successful combination of genres considerably expands the film’s target audience.
In addition to being aesthetically, comedically, and dramatically satisfying, the movie boasts an impressive core group of multilayered characters backed by superb voice acting. Throughout her perilous journey, Raya is easy to root for and makes for an extremely likable protagonist. She is humorous, compassionate, brave, and mature beyond her years. Though her moral footing is unwavering, she is not immune to making mistakes, which allows for a relatable main character. Further cementing her accessibility is the fact that her honorable goals are partially driven by individual desire. Kelly Marie Tran brings these noble qualities to life in an excellent voice performance that shows complete commitment to the role. Despite the fantastical setting, Raya is about as real of a hero as it gets.
Accompanying her on her quest is the titular last dragon known as Sisu. The mythical entity carries the load in the comic relief department and is appropriately amusing in appearance. She complements Raya’s more serious demeanor quite well as the two frequently shift from poignant conversations to playful banter. This dynamic is present for much of Raya and the Last Dragon and part of what makes it so effective is the balance it employs. The emotional significance gained from the messaging is never at the cost of the humor or vice versa. The legendary creature is voiced by the multitalented Awkwafina, who is at the top of her game here. Sisu’s quick-witted one-liners as well as her heartfelt lessons are both masterfully delivered by the performer’s endearingly distinct voice.
The secondary characters Namaari (Gemma Chan), Boun (Izaac Wang), and Tong (Benedict Wong) are also worth noting as they each contribute to a different facet of the plotline’s lasting appeal. Their backstories and motivations begin on separate paths, but the collective strength amassed when they finally intersect is staggering. The takeaway as the credits roll may be a bit cliché but that only slightly diminishes the otherwise potent realization of the film’s compelling theme.
A Delightful, Fresh Formula
Raya and the Last Dragon utilizes memorable characters and a winning medley of genres to elevate the marvelous animation.