RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON – Film Review

Long ago, in the fantasy world of Kumandra, humans, and dragons lived together in harmony. However, when sinister monsters known as the Druun threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, five hundred years later, those same monsters have returned, and it’s up to a lone warrior named Raya (voice of Kelly Marie Tran) to track down the last dragon and stop the Druun for good.

With OnwardSoul, and now Raya and the Last Dragon, Disney is on quite the roll and quite the winning streak in terms of excellent films that are not only going to be greatly enjoyed by children but will be deeply appreciated by grown-ups too.

It’s kind of a known thing at this point that Disney movies deal with some heavy themes and by the end of the story, you’ll be reaching into your box of tissues. Onward dealt with the loss of a loved one, Soul explored what happens to your soul when you die and what makes you you, and Raya and the Last Dragon is a bold and rich delve into family and the legacy they carry on to new generations.

Right from the opening scene alone, Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada’s Raya and the Last Dragon is brimming with lore and a world so expansive and beautiful, that I was incredibly eager to learn more about it as soon as the opening sequence was over. Thankfully, screenwriters Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim know exactly what they’re doing with this story.

It does everything a good animated family flick should do, really. There are few things I hate more than when an animated film comes out and it’s obvious that it doesn’t really have an intriguing story, and so the screenwriters cram as many gross-out jokes as possible in the hopes that the youngsters will get a laugh or two out of it.

But gratefully, this is not the case with Raya. It’s a film that has great humor where it’s needed, but it tells an emotionally charged and exciting story that audiences of all ages can get immersed with. It reminded me of the old-school Disney movies back in the 90s like Mulan. A film that had riveting action and a beautiful world that you couldn’t wait to explore.

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

In many ways, this film reminded me a lot of LAIKA’s Kubo and the Two Strings, but it most certainly isn’t a carbon copy of it whatsoever. In fact, the similarities between the two made me happy instead of frustrated. Both films deal with similar themes and they both boast great action, a good sense of humor, and a story that will bring you to tears by the end.

And I cannot even begin to tell you how happy I am that the wonderfully talented Kelly Marie Tran got to be the star of a brand new movie here, voicing the titular Raya. The Star Wars sequel trilogy is quite possibly the most divisive piece of media in the last twenty years or so. I personally love them and I will defend them forever, but one thing I do agree with when it comes to backlash is the fact that Tran’s character Rose Tico was completely wasted.

She got some cool things to do in Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, and it looked like they were setting up her character to be quite pivotal to the final installment in the trilogy. But, as you probably already know, Rose only appeared in one scene in The Rise of Skywalker, which caused fans of Tran’s work to question why they even wrote the character in the first place if they didn’t want to utilize her.

In the role of Raya, Tran shows just how great of an actress she truly is, even if we don’t actually get to see her physically here. She lends a tremendous amount of strength and charisma to this vocal role as well as heavy emotion where it’s needed.

There honestly isn’t a whole lot to complain about when it comes to Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon. It contains almost everything you could hope for in a family adventure. Does it have some fun action? Check. Does it have characters that get great development and meaningful arcs by the end? Check. Does it sweep you off your feet and leave you in a puddle of tears by the end? Check.

Overall Grade: A

MPAA Rating: PG for some violence, action, and thematic elements

Cast: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Izaac Wang, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Sandra Oh, Thalia Tran, Lucille Soong, Alan Tudyk

Directed by: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada

Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Release Date: March 5, 2021

Running Time: 107 minutes

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