Movie Review: Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

Directed by the team of Don Hall (Big Hero 6, Moana), Carlos López Estrada, Paul Briggs and John Ripa, Raya and the Last Dragon is a 2021 Disney animation film, and the 59th overall film produced by the studio. In the fictional South East Asian country of Kumandra, dragons used to coexist alongside humans, until evil spirits known as the Druun appear and wreaked havoc across the world. Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) must travel across the broken world to recover the shards of ancient Dragon magic in an effort to stop the Druun, who are rampaging once more, and bring peace to the land. Raya is joined by various allies along the way, including Sisu (Awkwafina), the titular last dragon.

+ the voice cast is full of recognisable and unique voice work, with Tran, Awkwafina and Daniel Dae Kim as Raya’s father the clear standouts. The back and forth between Tran and Awkwafina feels realistic, and the more emotional moments hit harder because of it
+ overall, the film has a relatively basic story (which had some shades of Dragon Ball in it). Like all Disney films, there are elements of wanting to protect/resurrect/find long lost parents, but at least here it only as a by product of saving the world. There are some feel good lessons not so deep under the surface, but don’t expect the plot to blow your mind
+ the movie looks great, but frankly all Disney animations do these days. The hair on Sisu, especially when she is swimming/flying are impressive, as is the sand and dust particles throw around during the fight scene. The antagonistic Druun are more like beings of energy, and as such their forms are visually imposing

– there are a few frustrating characterisations which mostly boil down to this being a movie for kids. I found Sisu to be incredibly annoying, far beyond just that of a goofy sidekick, and would have dumped her on the side of the road nearly immediately. All throughout, the idea is championed of trusting people, or at least giving them the benefit of the doubt, but frankly the main target of this does NOTHING to deserve it, and the way it’s all wrapped up left a lot to be desired
– I had some issued with the pacing, including starting with a voiceover in media res, and then a fifteen minute flashback/exposition dump, and then the movie proper. It felt clunky, and I don’t know why it didn’t just start at the chronological beginning

> these female-led Disney animation films always seem to involve water: the dam explosion in Tangled; everything about Moana, obviously; crossing the sea in Frozen II (and arguably everything about Elsa’s powers in general) – is there some symbolism I’m missing? Do women not like water?
> according to the credits, much of this movie was done by people from their own homes. If that extends to things like editing and direction, then good on them. They nailed it

Should you see this film: Overall, I enjoyed this. I won’t pretend it is some ground-breaking, game-changing Disney offering, but the animation is gorgeous, the voice work is really good and from start to finish it was an easy watch.

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