REVIEW: ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ is more of what you expect from Disney.


Disney’s new film Raya and the Last Dragon just released both in Theaters and on Disney’s Premium Access on Disney+. The film tackles issues with Trust and learning that people can Change, but does the film show that we can trust Disney to give us a Brand New Story? Or does is show that Disney can only tell variations of the same few stories?

Let’s see.

The film stars actress Kelly Marie Tran, most recognizable as Rose from the 2017 Star Wars: The Last Jedi, she also coincidentally voiced a character in Dreamworks’ recently released The Croods: A New Age, and it shows that she has quite the talent for voice acting. She plays the titular character Raya, a Warrior Princess (Of course she’s a Princess) who is the last survivor of her Kingdom.

She must travel across the other Four Kingdoms to find the broken pieces of a Magical Gem, and with the help Sisu, the Last Dragon, voiced by Actress/Singer Akwafina.

500 Years earlier Humans and Dragons lived together in peace, but an evil force called the Druun came and turned both Humans and Dragons to stone. The Last Dragon, Sisu, took a magical Dragon gem and banished the Druun, but she disappeared by apparently sacrificing herself.

All the Humans came back yet the Dragons remained stone. Without the Dragons to guide them the Humans all split up into Five Separate Kingdoms due to their greed over the Dragon Gem, and 500 Years Later the gem was broken and the Druun return. We are now 6 Years after that event in the present day when almost all humans have been turned to stone.

Raya and Sisu must find Sisu and reunite the Gem pieces to defeat the Druun and turn the humans back to normal.

So seems like we’re off to a good start: a Big Fantasy World with Monsters, Magic, Dragons and different Lands, meeting different characters along the way from each of the Five Kingdoms and a Funny Dragon who cracks a lot of jokes. Well at least on the surface it looks good, but if you examine it closer you can see some of the issues this film has.

First of all, the main moral to the story is “Trust”, meaning that if you can trust someone you can bring out the good in them, but the real world doesn’t work like that. I’ll tell you the big issue with this when we get into the spoiler section.

Second issue is some of the characters. Sisu the Dragon, can be funny, cracking various jokes that is sure to make the little kid or soccer mom laugh, but she often seems to be the one who gets our group of heroes into the situations they end up in due to her blindingly trusting anyone because the concepts of someone being untrustworthy seems alien to her. Raya, the main character, is played well most of the film but when we get to the last third of the film she turns into every Disney Heroine/Princess we’ve seen time and time again. The element that makes films like Tangled and Wreck it Ralph seems to be missing.

Now let’s get into Spoilers…

So the main conflict starts when a Princess from another Kingdom called Namaari tricks Raya as a child to lead her to the Magical Gem. All Five Kingdoms all greedily want the Magic Gem because they think it brings them good fortune, but their greed breaks the Gem and brings back the Druun that were thought long gone and turns almost everyone to Stone Statues.

Throughout the film Namaari chases Raya and her friends while Sisu is constantly telling Raya that she should learn to trust Namarri and give her a present so that they can peacefully reunite the gem, but Namarri has time and time again shows how untrustworthy she is. In fact Sisu on multiple occasions in the film trying to give gifts and openly trusting strangers gate them into trouble.

Near the end Namarri accidentally kills Sisu because Raya didn’t trust Namarri, and why should she? Namarri has shown time and time again that she can’t be trusted, yet after a fight Raya and Namarri decide to work together and “Through the power of Friendship” the Gem is reunited and the Druun are destroyed, and apparently THIS TIME the Dragons come back, it wasn’t explained and they didn’t really do anything different, just the Dragons are back, everyone who was turned to stone is back and even Sisu comes back to life with NO explanation.

And all of a sudden the antagonist’s War Crimes are forgiven and all five kingdoms are one again. Typical Kids Movie ending, Nobody’s Dead and just learn to Trust anyone because if you tell someone you trust them that makes them good right?

Final Verdict…

So this film looks really good, the animation is nice and the world looks lively and lived in, but that doesn’t keep the film from people saying they copied Avatar: The Last Airbinder in the esthetic department. The voice acting is good and the movement of the characters is great, but the story is just flat. It lacks the charm you’d expect from a Disney film, and I feel that’s down to the overall way the theme of trust is poorly implemented into the film.

Apparently this film was meant to represent Southeast Asia, but has faced criticism in how it depicts Southeast Asia. The film also is not currently doing all that well financially in the Box Office being beat out by the new Tom and Jerry film.

I live in the Mid-West, and most of us are actually going to the theaters because we missed them, most showings I’ve seen since I’ve gone back have been 70% full, so that says something when you have a big DISNEY movie in theaters. We of course won’t know the results of the Premium Access buys on Disney+, but I’m telling you that this film is NOT worth $30 to see it a month early. Just wait till it’s free on Disney+, it’s not really worth the extra money.

My overall verdict is a 6/10, slightly above average, but that’s only because of the animation. If you want a quality story, then watch a classic Disney film like the 1991 Beauty and the Beast. This is just eye candy that will distract your 3-year-old, but that isn’t worth $30, just wait till April when it’s free.

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