Raya and the Last Dragon is heartwarming, action-packed, and inspiring, creating an experience that families will love.
Raya and the Last Dragon revolves around the fantasy world of Kumandra, a place where humans and dragons exist together. With an infusion of southeast Asian cultures, music, and traditions, the film leans heavily into its setting. A brand new fantasy, the story borrows elements from other franchises but does a great job at building something fresh as well. Raya and the Last Dragon follows Raya, a lone warrior, and princess to an abandoned kingdom, voiced by Kelly Marie Tran. She finds herself traveling across the land to different tribes before running into the mythical dragon Sisu, played by Awkwafina. The film was directed by the long-time Disney experienced Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada.
Raya and the Last Dragon is most impressive in its animation and choreography. Disney’s animation has always been top-tier, topped only by their sister division at Pixar. Though when it comes to the action sequences, Raya and the Last Dragon breaks new ground. Fluid, eye-catching, and colorful, the film does a great job creating taking cultural fighting styles and bringing them to life via animation. A female-led and focused film throughout, it was nice to see Raya follow the new tradition of the princess saving herself, instead of being saved by a prince. Raya is talented, perhaps the most talented person in any situation she’s put in throughout the film. With some similarities to Rey from the Star Wars sequel trilogy, Raya is a likable character.
Outside of animation and action choreography, Raya and the Last Dragon does a good job at theming. While at times, the lesson of trust and fear of the other can feel too on-the-nose, the film very much felt tailor-made for kids most of all. This makes sense given that is indeed the target audience but some of the lessons presented could have been worked into the script with more nuance. Outside of that, the relationship between Raya and Sisu was a cross between Mulan and Mushu’s mentorship and Aladdin and Genie’s magical one. While not quite hitting the high’s of either iconic animated pairing, Ray and Sisu are a heartwarming pair. A sequence in the third act between the two being the best in the film.
The stress of Asian cultures did not only stop in the animation and designs, a diverse cast voices the film. During a press conference of Raya and the Last Dragon that ComicBook Debate attended, the cast spoke about the importance of having a visually all-Asian cast take the stage for the film. The characters felt rich and believable, creating a strong story that does not take shortcuts in its Asian heritage. It would be remiss not to mention to mention the heightened violence against Asians after the COVID-19 pandemic and hearing the cast know how important this film can be for the future of Asian representation.
Debuting simultaneously on Disney+ Premier Access and in theaters on March 5th, Raya and the Last Dragon is another example of Disney testing the waters of a streaming and theatrical release. After the success that HBO Max has had releasing films simultaneously, one can assume the success of Raya could implore Disney to do the same.
Overall, Raya and the Last Dragon is a love letter to southeast Asian cultures, backed with a strong cast performance and stunning action-packed animation.