It’s amazing the work you can do while at home in your sweatpants…
As good as Raya and the Last Dragon is as a piece of entertainment, easily ranking in the upper echelon of some of the films out of the Walt Disney Animation canon, it deserves even more love when you realize that they did a fair amount of the post production on this, working from home during various stages of COVID-19 lockdown. The movie looks amazing, is a rousing good time and a testament to the power of imagination at a time when we all need it the most.
Long ago, in the fantasy world of Kumandra, humans and dragons lived together in harmony. But when an evil force threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, 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 take trust and teamwork as well.
While we’ll be the first to admit that there’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen on this one, Raya and the Last Dragon borrows just enough from the Disney Princess mold and mashes it up with Asian Fantasy elements to make something that is not only very emotionally compelling but visually eye popping as it makes for the first must see film of 2021.
It’s understandable that having a directing team of four people (Don Hall, Carlos Lopez Estrada, Paul Briggs and John Ripa) can feel like there’s too many voices’ driving this story but everyone is obviously on the same page with a real clarity of vision for the story that they are trying to make.
The story elements aren’t entirely unfamiliar as we’ve seen this type of film but where it all really succeeds is in its visual flair and the myriad of self assured characters throughout.
Make no mistake, this film looks GOOD and it’s almost criminal that it’s not going to be widely available on theatre screens all across the country but as we delve into the world that is Kumandra we can see the pain staking work that went into some incredibly detailed and lush animation work that let us get lost in this world of fantasy.
While the narrative is a little familiar in the mold that we’ve seen before, it’s the character work where this film actually stands out from the rest.
Kelly Marie Tran in the voice of Raya is fully realizing the stardom that was taken away from her after the completely unfair backlash of her in the Star Wars franchise. She makes Raya jump off the screen as a plucky and very relatable heroine for any age to be able to get behind. This film allows the “Disney Princess” archetype to evolve into a full blown bad-ass for the 21st century and she’s arrived just in the nick of time and very much in keeping with the fantasy films from the Pacific Rim that this film borrows from.
Awkwafina stands out as the dragon Sisu almost as much as someone like Robin Williams did back in the day with Aladdin. We always know it’s her, but she’s a standout because the character is allowed to be an eccentric firebrand which just accentuates the comedy chops that she brings to the screen.
With the balance of the voice ensemble being as culturally representative as possible featuring a myriad of familiar names like Daniel Dae Kim, Gemma Chan, Benedict Wong, Sandra Oh and Sung Kang bringing their voice talents to bear, this might be the first animated effort that we’ve seen that feels as genuine as humanly possible, even more so then Mulan (Animated and Live Action) that have come before it.
Given the world around us, it’s been hard for all of us (present company included) to get excited about the movies, it’s natural. Thankfully, Raya and the Last Dragon is the cure for what ails us all and is actually making it OK for us to get excited about getting lost in something big and fantastic that has a life affirming message…it’s the movie we need right about now.