Raya and the Last Dragon feels like a production-line addition to Disney’s animated films that ticks all the boxes but delivers nothing unexpected or of unique value.
The film follows the young warrior, Raya (Kelly Marie Tran), whose quest is to find the last remaining dragon and stop a wicked evil known as the Druun from inhabiting the land and turning every living organism into stone. Along the way, she’ll have to make friends with members of rival clans and join forces to not only defeat a common enemy but also unite a divided land’s people.
Raya and the Last Dragon communicates the message to put aside whatever differences people may have and come together to live and prosper in unity. It’s a wonderful message that would have had a more significant impact had it not been applied so heavily. It is beyond loud and clear, with the filmmakers not allowing for any subtlety or interpretation of the themes and key ideas. While the film’s intended younger audience may benefit from such a message, it doesn’t leave much for its adult audience to ponder. Going into a movie like this as an adult and Disney animated film fan, there is an expectation of seeing something unique and profound without it necessarily being spelled out.
Beyond the questionable choice of theme delivery, Raya and the Last Dragon features some stunning animation and likeable characters. Kelly Marie Tran’s Raya receives the most character development; however, it is still a fairly typical representation of a brave protagonist, the kind we’ve become accustomed to in Disney’s animations. Gemma Chan’s Namaari, on the other hand, seems to have the most depth to her character but isn’t as fleshed out, which is a shame as a film’s hero is nothing without a great villain. That balance is just off here, which diminishes the audience’s emotional investment. Thankfully, Awkwafina adds her highly sought after brand of humour to the dragon Sisu, becoming the film’s saving grace.
Disney has always been at the forefront of creating gorgeous and deep animated worlds, and they continue to do so here. The character design and attention to detail in world-building is top-notch, making for some beautiful, rich visuals. Sadly, the film’s impressive aesthetic does not match its rudimentary storytelling, making Raya and the Last Dragon a film that could have been so much more.
Raya’s fighting style using two sticks is based on the Filipino martial art Kali, also known as Arnis or Escrima.