Raya and the Last Dragon film review (2021)

Disney’s latest epic has impressive world-building, a protagonist to root for, and some of the best fight scenes I’ve ever seen in a Disney animated film.

Disney’s new original animated movie, Raya and the Last Dragon, is one I was looking forward to for quite some time now. Although I feel most Disney animated films are guilty of following similar trends and tropes, there’s also enough distinctions between each of them to help these specific movies stand out and separate themselves from one another. Whether it be different story elements, how the characters are portrayed and how they act, and even the animation and how the world is constructed, all these things come into play in order to deliver a unique and refreshing experience while watching it. I believe Raya and the Last Dragon does this and, in some ways, even exceeds it. I genuinely had a great time watching it from beginning to end.

Raya and the Last Dragon takes place in a fictional-fantasy world known as Kumandra. For years, humans and dragons lived together peacefully, until a devastating threat known as the Druun threatened to take over the land. The dragons then sacrificed themselves in order to save humanity. Now, 500 years later, the Druun have returned and it’s up to Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) to locate the last dragon to help bring a stop to the Druun once and for all.

From its introduction, the film truly captivates you with its beautiful imagery. This is arguably the best any Disney animated film has ever looked. I mean, most of us always say this whenever a new Disney movie is released, but I guess it’s more of a credit to the company since it’s constantly improving and raising the bar with its animation and special effects. The way the people, the creatures, and the different lands are portrayed in order to be distinct from one another is truly special. What also makes it even more impressive is the people who inhabit these specific lands. They all have different traits, ways of life, attitudes, and so on. It’s truly diverse and as a viewer, you’re able to pinpoint where each character is from according to how they conduct themselves and their physical appearance. The world-building is truly a highlight for me and some of the best and most detailed I’ve seen in a Disney film.

The story is an interesting one. As mentioned before, it certainly borrows some ideas from movies of Disney’s past, such as Mulan and Moana. However, it also reinvents those ideas to tell an all new story which caters to the film as a whole. Raya is similar to some protagonists with her enthusiasm for everything, protecting what she holds dear to her heart, and her sense of adventure. I also found these characteristics in other characters, like Mulan and Moana. If one thing is for sure, the heroines of these Disney films will always be incredibly strong in character, and their perseverance in order to accomplish a specific task is second to none.

Raya is dealt a bad hand in the film, like most people. Then again, it seems she’s the only one who has the guts and the mental fortitude to do something about it. This obviously may be false, considering her story is the focal point of the movie, and it doesn’t really go into detail about other characters who may very well be doing the exact same thing in order to find some answers and solutions to everyone’s common problem. There’s also something about the villain(s) in this movie. The most obvious threat for everyone involved is the Druun, of course. But, the movie also showcases other characters who can be portrayed as antagonists as well. Are they really, though? If you really put yourself in their shoes, they really just want the same thing Raya wants. The methods may be a bit extreme, of course, but it’s what they’ve grown up learning and being taught over the last 500 years before the Druun returned.

So, in essence, I can’t really say anybody else is a villain other than the Druun. They may be in Raya’s way, sure, but all these people that are coming from different lands are simply looking out for their people. The film does a phenomenal job portraying this and when it finally lets the viewer see things from their perspective and gives you a chance to get to know the different characters you meet, you come to this realization. It’s simply a matter of miscommunication and misinformation among these lands, really. In ways, it’s very relatable to the real world. Many times, we may dislike certain people for certain reasons when in reality, it may not be the case. I would discuss certain characters in better detail, but that’s obviously treading into spoiler territory, so I rather you experience it for yourself.

The message the film is ultimately trying to tell is to try and trust someone for once and it’ll make all the difference. This becomes even more apparent once the last dragon, Sisu (Awkwafina), enters the picture. At first glance, she seems overwhelmingly carefree and sometimes, she sounds like a bit of an airhead. When you give her character a chance though, you see her true intentions and how helpful she really is to finding the proper solution to the big problem. Awkwafina is great in this role, as is every other voice actor behind these characters.

Other than the animation and the storytelling, credit also needs to be given to the voicing cast, which does an outstanding job bringing the best quality to these characters. Some other standouts include Izaac Wang as Boun, Gemma Chan as Namaari, Thalia Tran as Little Noi, Benedict Wong as Tong, and Alan Tudyk as everyone’s favorite oversized Armadillo, Tuk Tuk. The action sequences are expertly choreographed (or animated) as well. There are many animated films I’ve seen throughout the years which are pretty action-heavy and the fight sequences are visually stunning and technically sound. However, it’s hard to think, at least of a Disney movie, which does it as good as this one. You’re in for a treat if you enjoy awesome fighting scenes.

Raya and the Last Dragon is already an early contender for the best animated film of 2021 and possibly one of my favorite films of the year. Do yourself a favor and watch it to experience an engaging story, entertaining action, likable and relatable characters, and an immersive and vibrant world.

Score: A

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