‘Raya and the Last Dragon‘ is a 2021 Disney Animation Studios feature directed by Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada. It was written by Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim and released in both theaters and on the streaming service Disney Plus.
Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) is seeking an ancient dragon named Sisu (Awkwafina) with the help of her giant armadillo Tuk Tuk (Alan Tudyk). She hopes the dragon can help her restore the Dragon Crystal, a mystical object that was shattered, unleashing a curse called the Druun that turns people into stone, including her father Benja (Daniel Dae Kim). Raya succeeds but Sisu tells her they cannot unless they find the other pieces which are divided among the five kingdoms. With Fang princess Namaari (Gemma Chan) in pursuit, they recruit Boun (Izaac Wang) an orphan with a ship, a skilled baby named Noi (Thalia Tran) from Talon, and Tong (Benedict Wong), the last warrior of the Spine to collect the rest of the pieces to save humanity and the dragons.
As far as the talent, the voice actors were superb. Kelly Marie Tran was perfect for the role of Raya and truly brought the character to life. The same goes for the rest if the cast. Everyone did a fantastic job to the point where I wish Tong was developed a bit more. He was introduced a bit late in the film and I think he should have been expanded on, especially with Wong as the actor.
I also thought the animation was well done. It was stylish, sleek, and the character designs were done in an excellent way. I especially liked how the dragons were designed. They flowed very well on screen. You could see some anime influence on that angle, especially when Sisu was in flight. That also goes for the soundtrack. It was not as epic as other films, but I still thought it matched the film well.
The problem with the movie is its secondary characters, with the exception of Tong. The weird Martial Arts baby was good as a one-off joke, but she should not have become a main character. Same with Boun. I mean, just as their skipper, sure, but again, he just did not work as a protagonist.
Disney could have easily slid in characters who were warriors or a maybe a healer (keeping with the fantasy theme). I think making them more engaging could have connected more. I know this is a kid’s movie, but I find dumbing down too much even bores children.
Once again, Disney did not give us a villain. Sure, Namaari was presented as an antagonist, but she was more rival than straight-up bad guy. Also, the Druun was just too vague. They were a cloud that just sort of wandered around. Why not have some powerful boss level bad guy who was pulling their strings? It would have made for a more compelling and thrilling story, giving Raya and company a common enemy to take down. For these reasons, I’m not sure it deserved its Oscar nod.
That is not to say the movie is bad. Quite the contrary. I did enjoy it and had a good time. I always enjoy a Martial Arts story that is influenced by Southeast Asian folklore. It was a delight and hopefully Disney will learn to bring back their villains.
Bottom line, Raya and the Last Dragon does have some story issues, but it is a solid film with a talented voice cast and a decent story.
PARENTAL CONCERNS: Some action and magical violence, Frightening images
FAVORITE QUOTE: This jerky is bad.
Check out the trailer below:
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