Released: 19th February
Seen: 17th March
Once again Disney has done a weir business thing that only Disney could probably get away with, time once again to deal with the issue of the Premier Access where Disney expects an extra 30 bucks on top of their current streaming price in order to vide a movie, in this case Raya and the Last Dragon. They did this recently with Mulan (interesting how it’s only been the films with mostly Asian casts that get this treatment, not sure what that says but it’s an interesting trend) and back then I couldn’t justify it… I also couldn’t really justify this, but it was also in a local cinema and I genuinely believe that’s the best way to properly enjoy the visual spectacle of Raya and the Last Dragon
Raya and the Last Dragon has a lot in common with many Disney films. It starts with a young girl named Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) who, along with her father Chief Benja (Daniel Dae Kim) guard a magical orb that was created by the last of the Dragons to protect the earth from evil spirits known as Druun. Raya and Benja lead the heart tribe that’s on a land that was formerly known as Kumandra but, for centuries now, has been broken up into 5 separate lands.
Benja wants to try and unite the lands again but when he invites the other tribes, inevitable betrayal happens and the dragon orb breaks which causes the Druun to come back and turn almost everyone into stone. Cut to 6 years later and Raya is still searching for the one thing that can undo all of this, the dragon known as Sisu (Awkwafina) who stopped the Druun the first time and might be able to stop them again if Sisu can just get Raya to trust anyone else.
So, here’s the part of the review where I just say the thing that you assumed because Raya and the Last Dragon is a Disney movie and this is a standard bit of praise… god damn this movie is gorgeous. Every single frame of it is a work of art that could go up on the wall, it’s just so pretty. They mostly use a standard 3D animation style but there are moments early on that use a stylised 2D animation that just works well with this film. I honestly would recommend seeing this in the cinema (if it’s safe to do so where you are) just to get the full impact of the visual splendour that’s on display.
Aiding the impressive visuals of Raya and the Last Dragon is a cast that just sells the hell out of the vocal performances, especially Awkwafina who was born to voice giant cartoon animals of various kinds. She easily steals the entire movie with her charming and infectious performance, and this is not an easy movie to steal when you have Kelly Marie Tran creating one of the best Disney leading characters that we’ve had in a while or Gemma Chan as Namaari who is just an incredible villain that captivates any time she’s on-screen. Indeed, the entire cast is just incredible as hell, there isn’t a weak link in this entire group.
It is hard to avoid pointing out the things that have become Disney cliches at this point because you do tend to notice them after a while. After so much repetition the “My parental figure is dead/lost in some way” doesn’t work as well, neither do the reveal of the friend who is a bad guy (though, thankfully they get that reveal out of the way within about 10 minutes). I get that Disney has a certain brand and image to uphold, but we’re hitting a point where the things they use to pull an emotion out of the audience just doesn’t work as well as they used to.
Raya and the Last Dragon is a great film, not just for representation purposes (Although that’s absolutely a factor) but as a piece of action-adventure entertainment it’s a delight. Filled with high drama, action and an adorable sidekick that’ll delight the kiddies, this is absolutely a film to check out… but, ya know, either in cinemas or when it’s on Disney+ without the stupid Premier Access price added on (Seriously, don’t encourage them to keep that idea going. It’s a bad idea that needs to die a quick death)