raya and the last dragon
directors: Carlos Lopez Estrada and don hall
starring: kelly marie tran, awkwafina, gemma chan and sandra oh
REVIEWER: lyall carter
In a realm known as Kumandra, a re-imagined Earth inhabited by an ancient civilization, a warrior named Raya is determined to find the last dragon.
One of my first cinematic memories was of going to see The Lion King. The beauty and richness of the animation, the way the story entertained you and broke your heart in equal measure and the power and brilliance of the voice acting not only left a lasting impression but a deep love and affection for Disney, animation and film. Raya and the Last Dragon will most certainly do this for an all new generation. Raya and the Last Dragon is an action packed fantasy film, with gorgeous animation and a whole lot of humor, heart and hope. A Disney classic in the making.
Long ago, in the fantasy world of Kumandra, humans and dragons lived together in harmony. But when sinister monsters known as the Druun threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, 500 years later, those same monsters have returned and it’s up to a lone warrior, Raya, to track down the last dragon in order to finally stop the Druun for good. However, along her journey, she’ll learn that it’ll take more than dragon magic to save the world—it’s going to take trust as well.
Raya and the Last Dragon works narratively on a number of levels. Firstly, it’s just flat out entertaining and even at a run time of close to two hours long it leaves you wanting more. It’s part heist, part fantasy quest with a dash and a slash of swashbuckling action. For the amount of key supporting characters in this film each of them are fleshed out in such a way that when we reach the climax of the film we are emotionally involved with every single one of them.
Raya and the Last Dragon is a fantasy epic with a fully realized world, with all of its intricate cultural, flora and fauna details, that takes risks in its design. The film makers even cleverly use traditional animation to show us the five different tribes which gives us more than enough back story to believe that this really is a living, breathing world.
Disney takes it up a notch with the gorgeous and detailed animation here in Raya. To think that this film was completed at home during the midst of a pandemic is extraordinary. From the detailing of Sisu’s hair to the fast and slick John Wick like animation to the intricacies of flowers with some epicly crafted cinematographic shots, this film pops off the screen.
This is the first time I can remember a Disney animated film using a comedian to voice a character since Eddie Murphy as Mushu in Mulan. Ironically Awkwafina, known for her comedic roles, is the voice of Sisu - also a dragon. Her hilarious one liners as well as the great slapstick comedy throughout makes for one of the funniest Disney animated films in a long time.
The message of coming together, trusting the other 'tribe' no matter what they've done to you, is a personal lesson but also a much needed country and global message in an ever increasingly partisan and divided world. There are also poignant and tear inducing moments of forgiveness and self sacrifice that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled. Perhaps if we take the first step to trust the 'other' and forgive them, as Raya encourages us to do, we too might see the return of magic in our land and it will begin to heal.
Raya and the Last Dragon is an action packed fantasy film, with gorgeous animation and a whole lot of humor, heart and hope. A Disney classic in the making.