It’s easy to be disenchanted nowadays. The pure hearted Disney yarns that used to move me to tears now struggle to hold my attention. But being the animation enthusiast that I am, I still eagerly pressed play on ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’. Because, if anything, the house of mouse has always delivered at least some visual treats alongside its tried (or is that tired?) formula.
Once upon a time, the land of Kumandra lived and prospered alongside dragons. When an evil force awoke that turned everything it encountered into stone, the dragons fought valiantly to save humanity. While they were able to fight off the evil force, every dragon was slain and only a magical gem remained as proof of their existence. Centuries later the land of Kumandra has split up over a dispute about who gets to keep the stone. When the dark forces return, princess Raya sets out to find the mythical last dragon and reunite the kingdom.
So far, so formula. The loss of parental figures, a slew of cutesy animals, some sidekicks for comic relief, a moral to the story that’s about as subtle as a jackhammer … it’s all there. And yet, for some reason it didn’t really bother me as much as it used to. Yes, the narrative is extremely familiar and borrows elements from the Disney canon left and right but the result doesn’t feel like a mere regurgitation, but more like a rejuvenation. The broken trust between countries hook seems all too timely and Raya’s kick ass personality feels more rounded instead of just a lazy woke move.
On top of that the animation is beyond stunning. If there’s one department where these films have never disappointed it’s their look. ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ sets the bar high from the get go and delivers us beautifully rendered surroundings and colourful characters who immediately earn their place among the Disney greats. The voice acting is also one of the absolute highlights, with Awkwafina’s work ranking right up there with (dare I say it) some other blue ethereal Disney being.
I believe it was Cogsworth who said “If it ain’t Baroque, don’t fix it”, so the tropes get a well deserved update to prove that they still serve their purpose in this very entertaining and gorgeously animated adventure.
RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON is now available as Premier Access through Disney+
Review – ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’
Reviewed online, March 6, 2021. Rating: PG. Running time: 107 min.
PRODUCTION: A Disney+ release of a Walt Disney Animation Studios, Walt Disney Pictures production. Producers: Peter Del Vecho (p.g.a.), Osnat Shurer (p.g.a.). Executive producers: Jared Bush, Jennifer Lee.
CREW: Directors: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada, Paul Briggs, John Ripa. Screenplay: Qui Nguyen, Adele Lim. Story: Paul Briggs, Don Hall, Adele Lim, Carlos López Estrada, Kiel Murray, Qui Nguyen, John Ripa, Dean Wellins. Editing: Fabienne Rawley, Shannon Stein. Music: James Newton Howard.
CAST: (voices) Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Izaac Wang, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Jona Xiao, Sandra Oh, Thalia Tran, Lucille Soong.