Review: Disney’s “Raya and the Last Dragon” stands out as another classic worth watching

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As an evil force threatens the kingdom of Kumandra, it is up to warrior Raya, and her trusty steed Tuk Tuk, to leave their Heart Lands home and track down the last dragon to help stop the villanous Druun. © 2020 Disney. All rights reserved.

by Jason Freund, Staff Writer

It has been four years since Walt Disney Animation Studios released “Moana.” Since then, the studio has released nothing but sequels, with Pixar creating a majority of the original content such as “Soul” and “Coco.” 

With “Raya and the Last Dragon,” Disney proved that it can still release high-quality original films, blending jaw-dropping animation with a thought-provoking message to create an entertaining movie for both kids and adults.

Directed by Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada, the film is set in the land of Kumandra, which has been split into five different regions all named after the parts of a dragon (Heart, Fang, Tooth, Talon and Spine).

Raya (Kelly Marie Tran), the princess of Heart, has been on a six-year quest to collect pieces of a magic orb forged by dragons who, with their united powers, prevented a villainous force from turning the inhabitants of Kumandra into stone.

That was 500 years ago and the land split apart after a power struggle emerged over who could control the stone. When the stone shattered, the force was re-released onto the world and is now threatening to drive the population to extinction.

The aforementioned quest leads Raya to Sisu (Awkwafina), the rumored “last dragon” and the one who used the orb to prevent the destruction of the world. 

Along the way, they are chased by Namaari (Gemma Chan), the princess of Fang. Raya and Namaari have a past with each other and the screen crackles with tension whenever they both share the same space.

“Last Dragon” takes heavy inspiration from Southeast Asian culture, which shows in each of the unique lands of Kumandra. Tail is a desert wasteland devoid of all life, Talon is a quaint town built on the water and Spine is a winter stronghold with frozen forests.

Tran, Awkwafina and Chane deliver outstanding performances in the lead roles. Tran makes Raya a strong yet vulnerable warrior with a wealth of depth, Awkwafina, as Sisu is the optimistic heart of the movie with an adorable “fish out of water” angle and Chane, brings Namaari to life as a princess who wants to be more than what her mother wants her to be.

While “Last Dragon” is a masterpiece in many ways, it isn’t without its flaws.

The other side characters, who are still good, get lost in the shuffle at times. The young Buon (Issac Wang) brings lighthearted energy to the group a la Aang from The Last Airbender and Tong (Benedict Wong) is a grizzled yet lonely man who is bluntly honest.

At some points, it feels that the other side characters are there to simply serve a purpose to the story, which is a point against them.

While the world of “Last Dragon” is aesthetically pleasing with some of the best animation work to come out of Disney, it doesn’t get a chance to truly breathe. Conflicts are quickly resolved as soon as they arise and the story jumps from place to place at a breakneck pace, especially in the first half of the movie.

The story does follow a prototypical “Disney formula” almost to a fault which makes the Macguffin narrative easy to follow but predictable in some cases.

Some of the dialogue choices are especially off-putting. For a movie based on Southeast Asia, the modern culture jokes made are a little too on-the-nose and just… odd.

Despite some minor speed bumps, “Raya and the Last Dragon” is still a joy to watch and can stand tall amongst the other Disney classics of the past.

Rating: 9/10