Raya and the Last Dragon
Raya and the Last Dragon (2021) movie review
Set in the realm of Kumandra (a fantasy take on Southeast Asia), Raya and the Last Dragon follows the titular Raya, who sets out to find the last of an extinct race of dragons to save the realm that has been broken. Raya and the Last Dragon was released this past weekend both in theaters and on Disney+ as a Premium Access feature to a strong reception from both critics and audiences so far, including a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes. And following the moderate box office success of Tom and Jerry (2021) last week (for COVID anyway), Raya and the Last Dragon looks to continue the push to bring audiences back to theaters!
What can I say? Raya was pretty fantastic! Of course it was nice to see a blockbuster in theaters again, as Raya was the biggest film we’ve gotten to see in the big screen since Tenet (2020). While a relevant question could be ‘Just how good is Raya?’ or perhaps ‘Is it worth going to the theater to see?,’ I think ‘Is it worth paying $30 to see?’ is a more fitting question. Yeah, it probably is. Of course go see it if you can! This film is absolutely stunning and worth seeing on the big screen! But as things are still opening up at different speeds, Raya is worth watching on any size screen.
Right off the bat, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the esthetic this story presents. The Southeast Asian inspired world is fascinating and fresh, and the film never misses an opportunity to pull from it. From the wonderful costumes to the lavish scenery to the outstanding James Newton Howard score, Raya is stunning. Another feat for this film is the incredible stunt-work- or, the choreography- or the animation of said chor- know what, it’s really cool!
All that being said, another thing that I noticed early on (and from the trailer) was the overall derivative nature of Raya, both the character and the film itself. While Disney has managed to make this film an exciting experience that feels new, the parts that work together to craft it feel less so. Many characteristics and plot-points feel like they were plucked from the Hall of Disney simply because they were from popular products, rather than stemming from the story. Of course going into specifics would mean nitpicking, something that, if you must defer to it, typically means that the film still manages to impress in the bigger picture.
Another thing that I didn’t love was the comic-relief aspect of the film. For starters, Raya isn’t that funny. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not really supposed to be! Once I got the idea that this was nothing like Moana (2016), I sat back and thoroughly enjoyed the darker tone! That said, there are obligatory comic relief characters, and one in particular just didn’t work with the flow of the film. Granted this aspect was also totally for younger audiences, and I see their value in regards to balancing the tone. No points lost of gained for me here, it’s just something that other Disney films have managed to do better.
That said, while my complaints permeate the first two acts of the film, Raya knocks it out of the park for an outstanding finale that had me emotionally invested much more than I expected! Obviously I don’t want to spoil anything, but Raya and the Last Dragon manages to bring out some powerful themes through rich and complex characters, sacrificing the aforementioned elements like comedy for hands down some of the most captivating characters Disney has had to offer these last few- decades. Of course it helps that the voice cast, especially Kelly Marie Tran, does a really great job!
Believe it or not, I have plenty more to say. But alas, I must let this one go… But while Raya and the Last Dragon could be a more polished film, it probably couldn’t be deeper, nor could it be any more compelling. The rich characters, striking animation and design, beautiful score, and motivated story manage to overcome its often cheche elements to create what I am certain will remain one of the year’s best films. Go see Raya and the Last Dragon, or pay to watch it on Disney+; whatever works for you. I guess if you don’t have more than two kids it might not be worth $30 if you have theaters, but- Oh you know what, 8/10. It’s awesome!
So Raya and the Last Dragon? Did you see it yet? What did you think? Be sure to leave a like or a comment below and let us know! And if you liked this review and you want to read more like it, check out some other new reviews or let us know what else we should talk about!
-review by Ryan Prince