Experience the movie event.
Raya and the Last Dragon is a 2021 animated fantasy film directed by Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada, written by Qui Nguyen and Peter Del Vecho, produced by Walt Disney Pictures and Walt Disney Animation Studios, and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. The film stars Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina. It was nominated for Best Animated Feature, but did not win.
"It's about trust." -Raya
500 years after the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity, the very thing that destroyed them has returned. Now, fearless young Raya must reunite the broken pieces of the mystical Dragon Gem and find the legendary water dragon, Sisu. When she finds Sisu, the two of them have to fight their way through the greedy tribes of a once united nation to restore safety to the world.
This is one of the most complex Disney films that I have seen in a long, long time.
To start, the relationships between characters are just incredible. They are so deep and personal that you really feel every emotion that the characters feel when certain things happen. The driving relationships are between Raya and Sisu (the dragon) and Raya and her nemesis, Namaari. Raya and Sisu are polar opposites, but that works. The saying "opposites attract" really applies to this situation. On the other hand, Raya and Namaari truly have a lot in common, which makes this relationship very interesting, because they are mortal enemies. This all comes to a head in the film's climax, but I won't talk about that.
The film has a lot of parallels to other Disney movies. It's basically a mix of Moana, Mulan, and Aladdin. Sisu comes to life in a way that we haven't seen since Robin Williams' Genie in Aladdin, and Raya is a mix between Mulan and Moana. All three of those movies are really great, and combining them together definitely works for Raya and the Last Dragon.
This movie also has a very rich theme about trust. I won't get into specifics, but there is a full circle story arc with a theme of trust. It was very prominent and one of the best usage of themes that I've seen in a movie of recent memory.
The world-building is also incredible. The story involves a bunch of different locations visited by Raya and her crew, which inherently takes a lot of world-building. Each location has a distinct trait that makes it memorable. It makes this film really fun to watch as you get a different aesthetic and character tropes in each location.
Every character in this movie is likable and relatable. Even Namaari, who is essentially the villain, has an understandable character arc that makes you sympathize with her. In my opinion, Raya is the least likable character. Every person and dragon in this film has something that makes them memorable, just like the different places visited throughout the movie.
The movie handles exposition really well. When there's an important piece of information that is needed to be conveyed, there is a flashback with some cool animation or some kind of cover to make you listen and have excited by the information instead of bored. The flashback sequences definitely look exactly like the ones in Moana, and that's a good thing.
And the animation in this film is, as always, just gorgeous. Disney has remained and will remain the studio that has the best-looking animation. DreamWorks, Illumination, and Warner Bros. all have their own things, but it is nothing even compared to the level that Disney is at with this technology right now.
The story is really simple but effective. It actually doesn't fully start until about twenty-five minutes in. There's a really great prologue that sets up everything perfectly. This film, in a way, is almost like an Endgame type movie. Actually, as I wrote that sentence, I realize that there are a ton of parallels to Endgame. If you have seen the movie, then you definitely know what I am talking about. It has a compelling narrative that provides a motivation for every character to go on this quest in their own ways. We know why Raya wants to complete her goals and what her goals actually are. We know how Sisu views the situation. And we know how and why Namaari does what she does.
The first thing that I have with this film is the pacing. It moves at a really fast pace, which is usually a good thing...but sometimes it's too fast. Sometimes something really exciting is happening and then it's over and we move on to the next thing really quickly. There's no space to breath or process what you just watched. Especially as it moves into the third act. There's a lot of stuff going on and not a lot of time to digest it.
And, for some strange reason, there were times where the characters' mouths didn't really line up with the lines that they were saying. That was an odd misfire from Disney of all studios, and really annoying, because it could be very distracting at certain points.
Some of the lines didn't land quite right with me either. There were times when the dialogue would be really great and have that complex theme of trust that comes full circle, and I loved that, but then there'd be a really bad line that would strike a wrong chord. The screenplay was inconsistent at best.
The relationship between Namaari and Raya, while great, can be a bit unconvincing when you think about it too much. It's a heated rivalry that we learn about in the beginning and we understand why they dislike each other...but throughout most of the film they act like they were best friends at one point when they really only knew each other for five or ten minutes. It's a bit thin on the details.
And, finally, there are some things that don't make a ton of sense. There are certain decisions made by certain characters that are really, really stupid in light of what we know. There's also something really predictable that happens, but doesn't get explained. The plot does have some small holes that could've easily been patched up if the writers had looked closer and maybe typed up one more nicely woven draft of the script.
Is Disney+ Premier Access Worth It?
So, if you don't know, Raya and the Last Dragon costs an extra $30 on Disney+ since it is a new release. It's basically like buying a ticket to a movie theater, but you get it at home instead. The first film to do this was Mulan in September of 2020. Raya is now the second film to do this. I'm still unclear as to whether this is a one-time fee or a fee that you have to pay every time a new movie is released on Disney+ with the premier access title.
Anyway, I'd say Raya is absolutely worth it. If you have a family that wants to see this movie, it's only 30 bucks. Depending on how many people you have in this family, that's not nearly as much as you pay to buy a ticket to the movie theater. It's a really fun movie that is definitely worth the money.
Raya and the Last Dragon is certainly a great entry in Disney's already spectacular track record, while maybe not being a complete hall of fame inductee.
I will give it a Savory rating. Age range is 4+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
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"Raya and the Last Dragon"
Fun Factor: 9/10
Directed by Carlos López Estrada and Don Hall
Rated PG for animated violence and action, some rude humor, disturbing images
Released on March 5, 2021
1 hour and 52 minutes
Kelly Marie Tran as Raya
Awkwafina as Sisu
Gemma Chan as Namaari
Isaac Wang as Captain Boun
Daniel Dae Kim as Chief Benja
Benedict Wong as Tong
Sandra Oh as Virana
Thalia Tran as Noi
Jona Xiao as Young Namaari