Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

Raya and the Last Dragon
Director: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada
Writer: Qui Nguyen, Adele Lim
Cast: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Izaac Wang, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Sandra Oh, Lucille Soong, Alan Tudyk, Dichen Lachman, Sung Kang
Seen on: 2.6.2021

There used to be one country called Kumandra. But after a terrible plague, the Druun, that turned everybody it touched to stone, and that could only be stopped with the dragons – who all turned to stone themselves – the country split into five realms: Fang, Tail, Talon, Heart and Spine. The last of the dragon powers in form of a stone is in Heart, guarded by King Benja (Daniel Dae Kim) and his daughter Raya (Kelly Marie Tran). Benja would like to bring the five realms together again, but his plans don’t come to fruition. Instead, the magic stone is broken and the Druun return. There is only one hope for Raya now: finding Sisu (Awkwafina), the last dragon who supposedly was just lost and not turned to stone.

Raya and the Last Dragon is a beautifully animated, emotionally touching film. It is pretty much what you hope for when you go to watch a Disney princess film – an absolutely satisfying experience.

The film poster showing Raya standing in the middle, with Sisu above her. The rest of the image is separated in five parts, four representing one of the film countries and the fifth showing Raya and Namaari charging each other.

Raya and the Last Dragon has two big things going for it, before we ever get to the story. One, it is the first Disney animation film that touches on the diversity and wealth of Asian cultures, I think. And I don’t know if it’s the first Disney film that doesn’t feel the need to include any white people (on screen, when there are people and not just animals), but it certainly feels that way. So that’s pretty cool.

And the second thing is that it is absolutely stunning. From the big stuff like the landscapes to the small things like Sisu’s fur, from the more abstract history lesson in the beginning to the more detailed characterization in the main part – I loved looking at every frame of it.

Raya and her pet Tuk Tuk standing on a hill, overlooking Heart.

And then there’s the story that I really enjoyed. I mean, it does oversimplify conflicts a little and no, not all conflicts will be solved with just being nicer to and trusting each other. But it does get the part right where trust is a gamble at first, but somebody needs to make the first step anyway.

And I loved Raya (despite her being another character with daddy issues and apparently only one parent) and Namaari (both wonderfully voiced by Tran and Chan who should be in absolutely everything). I mean, I recognize the queerbaiting here and I wanted to kick Disney in the shin for it, but also, it kinda does work. In any case, I was invested in them and their story. So, I did shed a tear here and there. I laughed at Sisu’s and other’s antics. And I left the cinema (THE CINEMA) with a smile. What more could I ask for?

Raya meeting Sisu for the first time.

Summarizing: simply lovely.

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