"Raya and the Last Dragon" stars Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Sandra Oh, Benedict Wong, Izaac Wang, Thalia Tran, and Alan Tudyk. Released on March 5, 2021, the film is about a warrior who goes on a journey to find the last dragon.
The film is directed by Don Hall, who also co-directed "Winnie the Pooh", "Big Hero 6", and "Moana", and Carlos López Estrada, the director of "Blindspotting". It is the 59th film in the Walt Disney Animation Studios library. The people from Disney have not only been producing some fantastic animated features throughout the years, but they have also been creating breathtaking worlds inspired by other countries and their mythologies. For "Frozen" and its sequel, the world of Arendelle was based on Norway and Scandinavian culture. The world and characters created for "Moana" were inspired by Polynesian mythology. The "Big Hero 6" environment was a combination of San Francisco and Tokyo. The latest animated feature in Disney's library appears to be no different as the studio attempts to take its audience to the magnificent fantasy world inspired by Southeast Asia. No, I'm not talking about the world based on "The Last Airbender". They don't have enough money to buy Nickelodeon yet. I'm talking about a world filled with fearless warriors and mythical dragons. It's no surprise that this was one of my highly anticipated films of the year due to the Disney brand, its invigorating concept, and Kelly Marie Tran's involvement, who is making a solid comeback so far after the whole "Star Wars" fiasco. Everything that has the Disney brand is a must-see for me, whether it's live-action or animated. The film marks the studio's latest attempt to test out Disney+'s Premier Access, allowing subscribers to pay 30 dollars to watch it on the streaming service. Because that turned out so well with the "Mulan" remake. I'll be relying on Disney+ because even though it's also playing in theaters, I still couldn't find the time to go to the cinema to see it. With that in mind, let's see if this animated adventure is another massive hit for the Mouse House.
The film takes place in the fictional land of Kumandra, where humans and dragons live in harmony. That is until a group of evil spirits called the Druun crashed the party and threatened to destroy everything in their path by turning everyone into stone. The dragons used their powers to create an orb to ward off the Druun, sacrificing themselves in the process. The people's obsession for the orb's power resulted in them being divided into five different tribes, each named after a different part of a dragon: Fang, Heart, Tail, Spine, and Talon. The Heart tribe has acquired the orb and has been guarding it against the other tribes ever since. 500 years later, the leader of the Heart Tribe, Chief Benja (Kim), has been training his daughter Raya (Tran) to be the guardian of the orb. When a sudden betrayal by Namaari (Chan), one of the members of the Fang tribe, lead to the orb being destroyed, Raya must journey across the land to search for the water dragon known as Sisu (Awkwafina), who happens to be the last dragon in existence, and save her people from the Druun. The film once again used the usual Disney formula that has been captivating audiences for years. It has the fearless princess, it has a supporting character who serves as both the comic relief and a source of inspiration, and it even has the cute animal sidekick. It's as plain as the horns on Sisu's face. It's just that noticeable. However, the studio tends to make this formula work every time by creating engaging stories and breathtaking worlds that resonate with the world around us. Unsurprisingly, the trend continues with "Raya and the Last Dragon", an immersive and thought-provoking animated adventure that may rival the likes of Nickelodeon's "Avatar: The Last Airbender". This film had plenty of vibrant sceneries and intense action sequences that will give many audiences goosebumps for hours, but it also delivered an intelligent and well-rounded story that we all need right now. The film represents a world where people are divided due to fear and betrayal, which somehow reflects the situation we're in now. It serves as a reminder that it takes trust and teamwork to unite the world. It's simple for the kids but also suitably effective for the adults. The story can be a bit predictable for some people. Still, the execution of its storytelling and characters was strong enough to provide an equal amount of action, heart, humor, and visual splendor. One of the strong aspects of the film was the voice cast. The majority of them were Asian American, which showcases the studio's continuous support for diversity and representation behind the scenes. Kelly Marie Tran was given the task to bring another potential Disney princess to life onscreen, and she succeeded. Her vocal performance was undeniably superb as she delivered a well-balanced mixture of humor and drama into her character. After everything that has happened to Tran during her "Star Wars" days, I'm thrilled to see that Disney allowed her to bounce back with a role that's worthy of her talent. If you're reading this, Miss Tran, I'm proud of you. Keep up the good work. As for Raya herself, I have absolutely no problems with her. I thought the filmmakers did a great job developing Raya as someone who's internally fearful of trusting anyone due to what happened in the past. Keeping up with tradition, Disney has created another strong, independent princess that kids can look up to. She's dynamic, she's vulnerable, and she's pretty good with a sword. The main highlight of the cast has to go to Awkwafina as Sisu. She stole the entire show in every scene she's in. Not just because she's hilarious but also because of her ability to provide some depth into her character. Sisu is definitely the type of character that should stand alongside Robin Williams' Genie and Dwayne Johnson's Maui as one of the most memorable supporting characters that Disney has created. The rest of the cast was also great, ranging from Gemma Chan as Namaari to Alan Tudyk as Tuk Tuk, Raya's giant pill bug companion. Tong (Wong), Boun (Wang), and Little Noi (Thalia Tran), the allies that helped Raya on her journey, were fun and lovable additions to the film, with each of them having their own moment to shine. What's great about these characters was that the film didn't see them as heroes and villains. It saw them as people who have different beliefs and are blinded by fear. That's what made the rivalry between Raya and Namaari so enticing and believable in my eyes. The fight scenes between the two were riveting, but they also painted a bigger picture of their conflict with one another. The film's animation also played a huge role in the film, and it looked incredible. The character designs, the world of Kumandra, the visuals, the scope, the action sequences. Everything in "Raya and the Last Dragon" was nicely detailed, awe-inspiring, and more importantly, respectable to the culture it's based on. Even the stellar musical score by James Newton Howard was suitably accurate to the film's atmospheric environments.
Overall, "Raya and the Last Dragon" has enough action and heart to keep the Disney Animation train going. The significance of the film's themes also serves as a nice bonus for its success. Thanks to its strong cast, brilliant animation, and smart storytelling, the film not only marks another win for the Disney team, but it is also the best animated film of the year so far in my opinion. Sure, it's a bit more intense than "The Croods" and even "Tom & Jerry" when taking the action scenes and frightening imagery into account (I'm looking at you, Druun). However, it has a more tolerable narrative for the parents to handle than the ones in those two films. Plus, if your kids can handle the likes of "Big Hero 6", "Zootopia", and "Moana", I'm sure they can handle "Raya" as well. I would highly recommend this film to everyone, including those who love animation and some of Disney's recent animated films.