Disney animation has a storied history of producing heartfelt, classic tales of characters and their journeys and, thankfully, Raya and the Last Dragon continues in this tradition. Although it sticks closely to Disney’s established formula for animated films, Raya and the Last Dragon is an immense tale of sacrifice, collaboration, and representation bolstered by incredible voice work and stunning visuals.
The film stars Kelly Marie Tran (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) as the title character, alongside Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, and more. Tran plays Raya, a teenage girl who is tasked with reassembling the Dragon Gem, an artifact that holds the key to restoring and saving humanity. As the film explains, the Gem was previously broken into pieces, hence the need to put it back together again. Centuries beforehand, evil creatures threatened the safety of all, requiring dragons to sacrifice themselves in a selfless effort to save humanity. Years later, the creatures re-emerge and Raya is tasked with collaborating with the dragon and stopping the threat once and for all.This provides an interesting quest for Raya, and an epic challenge that leads her directly into the paths of a variety of different characters, including Sisu (Awkwafina), Tuk Tuk, and the villainous Namaari (Chan), who used to be the friend of Raya yet is intent on enacting her own, more sinister plans for the Gem.
Tran excels in this lead role, proving her acting talents once again. Tran adds so much humanity and emotion to Raya, making her even more relatable to audiences of all ages and genders. After her excellent work in The Last Jedi, it’s no surprise that Tran puts in such an amazing performance here. There’s been much unfair negativity from toxic sects of social media about Tran, yet she once again proves them wrong here. Awkwafina also stands out, adding humor and life to Sisu, a standout character in the film.
Raya and the Last Dragon works really well as an exciting adventure film, something that Disney is no stranger to. The world building here is also excellent, as the shattered land of Kumandra (Raya’s home) is explored in depth, as are the five tribes: Heart, Fang, Spine, Talon, and Tail. Raya also excels in representation, as Disney continues to make progress in delivering another interesting, relatable, and great female led film. Moreover, representation on screen and behind the scenes is worth praising as Raya and the Last Dragon is sure to have an impression on people of underrepresented groups, as well as those who have been privileged enough to see stories told from the lens of people that look like them for decades now.
Raya and the Last Dragon’s animation is outstanding too. Although we previewed this on Disney+, it’s certainly worth going to the theater once the pandemic subsides to see this movie in IMAX. Still, even on the smaller screen on Disney+, the work of the animators shines through as some of, if not the best Disney animation we’ve ever gotten.
Raya and the Last Dragon is a must see animated film for all ages. Not only does it make significant progress in Asian representation in large-scale films, Raya and the Last Dragon is a poignant story that largely sticks to the tried-and-true Disney formula, while diverting in interesting and unexpected ways.
Images courtesy of Disney