A princess, fantastic adventures, magical powers, and a goofy dragon mix together to make up Disney’s animated film, Raya and the Last Dragon.
The animated film begins with a voice-over by Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) explaining how her world was saved from the dreaded Druun by magical dragons who sacrificed themselves by placing all their powers into a stone, stopping the Druun from turning everyone into stone. However, the once peaceful and unified kingdom, Kumandra, split into five parts over what to do with the magical stone that holds the dragons’ power.
Jump ahead 500 years to young Raya learning from her father, Benja (voiced by Daniel Dae Kim), the martial arts necessary to defend the stone from anyone who would try to steal it. Raya’s father has a dream of once again unifying the lands to become Kumandra again and invites the leaders of the other four parts to a big dinner gathering.
While at the tense event, Raya befriends a girl her own age named Namaari (Gemma Chan). After she gives Raya her dragon necklace as a gift, Raya decides to give Namaari a peek at the protected dragon stone. Unfortunately, Namaari was only pretending to be friendly to gain access to the stone and after sending a signal to show its location, a fight ensues between all the grown-ups who want to steal it.
During the skirmish, the precious stone is broken into five pieces, allowing the dreaded Druun to come alive once again. They chase everyone and turn those they catch into stone. While the fight is raging, Raya manages to escape the melee with a piece of the stone.
Six years later, Raya’s now a grown adventurer scouring the land to find Sisu, the last dragon who’s rumored to have actually survived the battle with the Druun. Her plan is to steal all the pieces of the stone back and get Sisu to do battle once more against the evil Druun to save her world and return everyone turned to stone back into flesh.
Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon is a colorful, visually impressive film with a solid voice cast but suffers from an irritating secondary character and an uneven plot. The film’s tone is all over the place, attempting to be fun and adventurous in one scene, silly and goofy the next, followed by sad and sorrowful.
Kelly Marie Tran delivers an engaging performance as the voice of Raya, a young princess who has more in common with Indiana Jones, Aladdin, or Robin Hood than with any Disney princesses. This is a refreshing change and one of the highlights of the film. In fact, the film’s best scenes are with Raya sneaking into the other territories to try to steal parts of the broken stone to make it one again. She’s a capable, heroic young woman, and extremely resourceful.
Awkwafina lends her voice to the dragon Sisu, but portrays the shape-shifting dragon as a silly, overly optimistic scatterbrained creature who quickly becomes more annoying than cute or endearing. It almost seems as though the writers and filmmakers wanted Sisu to be to Raya what the Genie was to Aladdin in Disney’s classic animated film. Sadly, this attempt fails miserably.
The PG-rated animated film’s look is its greatest strength, with wonderous, glorious animation and artwork bringing the five different regions of the world to life. The characters are also gorgeously animated and engaging. Plus, James Newton Howard’s score enhances the film, especially throughout the exciting action scenes.
Even with the headache-inducing character of Sisu, the superb animation and a strong heroine on an exciting quest make Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon a very entertaining adventure that families shouldn’t miss.
MPAA Rating: PG for some violence, action, and thematic elements
Release Date: March 5, 2021
Running Time: 1 hour 48 minutes
Directed By: Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada