Raya and the Last Dragon
Derrick Dunn

Derrick Dunn

Old fashioned Disney magic in Raya and the Last Dragon

Walt Disney Pictures releases their latest computer-animated film in Raya and the Last Dragon from co-directors Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada. The film takes place in the fantasy world of Kumandra, where humans and dragons lived together in harmony long ago. But when an evil force threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity.

500 years later, that same evil has returned, and it’s up to a lone warrior, Raya, to track down the legendary last dragon to restore the fractured land and its divided people. However, along her journey, she’ll learn that it’ll take more than a dragon to save the world—it’s going to require trust and teamwork as well.

Raya and the Last Dragon features Kelly Marie Tran’s voice as Raya, a warrior whose wit is as sharp as her blade. While Awkwafina voices the magical, mythical, self-deprecating dragon named Sisu. Other characters also include a street-savvy 10-year-old entrepreneur named Boun (Izaac Wang), the formidable giant Tong (Benedict Wong), and a thieving toddler Noi (Thalia Tran) with her band of Ongis.

I avoided any trailers for Raya and the Last Dragon going in clueless to what the film was actually about. Disney has only made a few animated films that I didn’t particularly care for. One of the co-directors of Raya and the Last Dragon also co-directed Big Hero 6. Which meant at a minimum, I knew the film would have some impressive action sequences.

Raya and the Last Dragon starts out promising enough, showing a young Raya training and bonding with her father, Chief Benja (Daniel Dae Kim). I liked the diction in the character’s voice that Daniel Dae Kim brought. While Chief Benja is the chief of Kumandra’s Heart Land, he’s never coming off as aggressive. The guidance he gives the young Raya was very heartwarming to see. Even when things go south with Virana (Sandra Oh), the chieftess of the Fang land, Benja keeps his cool, and the writers don’t attempt to force a romance.

Raya also has great early scenes with the young Namarari, who will later become her foe. Kudos to writers Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim for the way they set up the rivalry. Naturally, this a Disney film, so something must happen for Raya to go on her quest, and while it’s a plot point we’ve seen before, the filmmakers handle it with tact and care. When Raya finally meets up with the individuals who will become her team, the heart of the film begins.

Everyone who joins Raya on her quest has their own reasons, and she has chemistry with them all. After being wasted in The Rise of Skywalker, Kelly Marie Tran gets a chance to shine in this film. I loved the interaction between Raya and Sisu, the dragon. Awkwafina has sharp comedic timing and just has a warm presence, even though it’s a voiceover. In the secondary antagonist role, Gemma Chan was also good as Namarari, and I look forward to seeing the MCU film, Eternals.

Raya and the Last Dragon are a successful combination of heart, humor, and action that the Disney canon fans can enjoy.

Final Grade B+

Raya and the Last Dragon opens in theaters on March 5th.

Additionally, the film is being simultaneously released on Disney+ with Premier Access the same day.

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