“Raya and the Last Dragon” is the 59th animated film from Walt Disney Animation Studios. When the Druun, an ancient evil that turns people into stone, is unleashed, the warrior Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) embarks on a quest to find the last dragon to save the land of Kumandra.
When united with the dragon Sisu (voiced by Awkwafina), they and a cast of fun characters must learn to trust each other to survive in a harsh and divided world.
High Stakes Action
“Raya and the Last Dragon” opt for tighter, smaller fight sequences instead of the large-scale battles that viewers are used to, but is all the better for it. In some of the best fight sequences seen in Disney animation, the hand-to-hand combat is fluid and personal. Viewers will feel the pressure build for the characters as the fights gradually get more intense throughout the film.
In these sequences, both Raya and her frenemy Namaari (voiced by Gemma Chan) shine. They brutally clashing swords many times, with their voice actresses matching the intensity of the animation, all while delivering well-placed quips. Raya may be a Disney princess, but she is a powerhouse that doesn’t need a prince to rescue her.
A Hilarious Cast of Characters
When not in combat, the characters in “Raya and the Last Dragon” are beaming with humor and relatability. The relationship between Raya and Sisu is a highlight of the film. They often are exchanging witty jokes and life lessons. Compared to other Disney characters, they have a similar character dynamic to Mulan and Mushu or Aladdin and the Genie.
Another cast of scene-stealing characters are Little Noi and her trio of monkey-like Ongi. In a hysterical subversion of expectations, Noi is a toddler who works with the Ongis as a con artist. They work both in favor or against Raya, depending on the part of the film. These characters are adorable as they are devious.
Southeast Asian Influence
Not only does “Raya and the Last Dragon” feature a predominantly Asian-American voice cast, but the film is also heavily influenced by Southeast Asian culture. This representation is a step in the right direction for Disney and Hollywood as a whole. To ensure authenticity, the film’s crew created the Southeast Asian Story Trust. The Trust consists of various experts on topics related to Southeast Asia.
The setting of the film is in the fictional land of Kumandra. This land is divided into five sections, each representing a body part of a dragon. Each setting is distinct and beautifully animated, pulling from Southeast Asian architecture and nature to achieve its looks.
For the creation of Sisu, the film’s writers were inspired by Southeast Asia’s mythology of Nagas and dragons.
Trust in a Complex World
While it can sometimes come across heavy-handed, the film’s main theme is trusting and having faith in one another. The characters, particularly Raya, struggle with trusting one another.
The themes show the humanity and flaws in each character, as nobody is truly good or evil in “Raya and the Last Dragon.” They all have grey morals, all acting in their self-interests and what they view as good, instead of coming together for the greater good. Through these themes and character flaws, the film attempts to mirror the tension and dividedness of the real world and current events.
Raya may have trust issues but trust us: “Raya and the Last Dragon” is a fun and action-packed film with a rich setting and complex yet funny characters. Whether you choose to watch it in theatres or on Disney+ Premier Access, the film is absolutely worth watching.
Raya and the Last Dragon releases in theatres on Mar. 5th, 2021. The film is also available for purchase for $29.99 through Disney+ Premier Access.