In the realm of Disney, the studio have created a variety of magical worlds. From enchanted kingdoms to whole new worlds, the house of mouse have enticed moviegoers with a number of magical realms and it is a concept that the studio utilizes even to this day. This is certainly the case with the studio’s latest film: Raya and the Last Dragon. Directed by Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada, Raya and the Last Dragon started off as the project Dragon Empire (which was being handled by a different team) until it eventually changed into the feature presentation in question. The film was originally slated to hit theaters last November, but (as the story goes) the movie was pushed back due to the pandemic. Now after cementing its new release date, as well as premiering on Disney+, the movie has made it to theaters; and like many films before it, Raya and the Last Dragon turned out to be a standout movie for Walt Disney Pictures.
The film centers on Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) who sets off to find the last dragon after an ancient evil, the Druun, awakens six years prior to the film’s events. Raya’s quest finds fruition when she discovers Sisu (Awkwafina): the great dragon whose stopped the Druun 500 years ago. Despite Sisu not living up to her status, the two set off on an adventure and, along with a band of misfits, try to bring balance back to the world before the Druun consume everything. The story of Raya was an adventure rich with excitement and complexity. The plot was exhilarating from beginning to end, though that was not to say that the story did not have any time to breathe. While the story could be too quickly paced, this was not enough to hurt the plot’s structure as it was fairly fluent in its execution. Along with the thrilling plot was the story’s keen world building. The world of Kumandra was an interesting one with its different lands and intriguing mythos; though it could have used a little more time to develop. Among the compelling directions, what really worked in the plot’s favor was its morality. The themes surrounding this tale were simple but effective as they reflected on the tension to the overall quest. It may not have been a perfect journey but the story to this animated tale certainly brought much balance to the overall experience.
I found myself taken aback from the cast of this adventure as there was much more to these characters than I expected. In the case of the title character, Raya was a stellar protagonist. Her sense of charisma was matched by her reasonable dilemma, and Kelly Marie Tran provided a solid performance as the determined heroine. Along with Raya was a supporting cast riddled with merits. From the young chef Boun (Izaac Wang) to Raya’s father Chief Benja (Daniel Dae Kim) the supporting characters were memorable in their own way. Although some characters could have a little more tuning which was evident in Raya’s rival Namaari (Gemma Chan). Namaari was a good adversary but she needed a little more development to really put her character into focus. Last and certainly was the last dragon herself Sisu. Sisu was a delight and in many ways was the standout character of the film. Sisu was reminiscent to Disney characters such as Genie and Maui as her comedic demeanor was matched by her compelling sense of morality. Whether it was compelling direction or just memorable moments, the cast of this film was not just effective but it may very well be one of the stronger ensembles from Disney in quite some time.
When it came to animation, Raya and the Last Dragon was quite sound in its presentation. The vibrant colors created a stylish looking world while the animation itself was fluent and showed that the studio has come along way since adapting to the cg style. The animation was also vital in capturing the movie’s action; which was a surprise to say the least. Along with adventurous sequences the movie also featured several impressive fight scenes that captured elements from the likes of many kung-fu films. Rounding things out for the film was the score composed by James Newton Howard which was a fitting element as it complimented both the style and the adventure to this animated quest.
Raya and the Last Dragon is a unique entry in Disney’s filmography. Along with its sense of adventure and stellar cast, the animated film featured an atmosphere that was refreshing to see. While the movie did have some issues in its execution, its presentation made up for it which was evident in elements such as animation and music. In this Film Adventurer’s opinion, Raya and the Last Dragon is among the better movies in Disney’s recent filmography as its merits may very well shine in the years to come, and if nothing else the movie was simply a delightful journey.