Disney has done it again as the cast and crew of Raya and the Last Dragon take viewers on another heartwarming adventure.
One thing I love about this film is that it is authentic in every sense of the word. While the film itself takes place in the fantasy world of Kumandra, it is inspired by the Southeast Asian culture. This also includes the fighting styles that we see on screen. We can see this especially in the writers and cast. You can tell that the filmmakers put so much love into this film. Because of the pandemic, 450 artists and crew members worked remotely from their homes. While live-action projects were shutdown, the animated projects were able to keep going from home.
Raya (Kelly Marie Tran), like her father Benja (Daniel Dae Kim), the Chief of the Heart lands, is a Guardian of the Dragon Gem. Raya sets forth to unite every piece when the Gem gets broken. Benja turning into stone means Raya is the last Guardian. Joining Raya on this mission is water dragon Sisu (Awkwafina), the last dragon as the title implies. She’s unlike any dragon we’ve probably ever met on screen in prior years. You certainly do not meet many dragons with a self-deprecating sense of humor. Hey, it is a Disney film! As Raya travels to collect the Gem pieces, Boun (Izaac Wang) and Tong (Benedict Wong) join her.
It wouldn’t be a film without a rivalry. For Raya, rivalry comes in the form of Namaari (Gemma Chan). She may have a love for dragons but she’ll still do what she can to protect the Fang tribe. Much like Raya is similar to Benja, Namaari shares traits with her mother (Sandra Oh).
Many people in the film have lost family or friends because of the Druun. They are a force of destruction that turn people into stone. While water repels them, only the Power of the Dragon can destroy them. This will certainly not be easy. Not with the five lands already having trust issues.
The Five Lands of Kumandra (Heart, Fang, Spine, Talon, and Tail) all have their differences be it in personality or how they dress. They may make up the same people but culturally, they are all so different from each other. In fact, the costume design takes a different approach for Raya and the Last Dragon with a draping-based design. Raya and Benja both believe Kumandra can be one again. But can they lands unite? At the very core of it, this is a film that comes down to trusting one another. You’ll see what I mean when you watch the film–be it this weekend or a few months from now when it’s included on Disney+ at no extra cost. Honestly, this film is worth the early access!
Trusting each other isn’t easy right now. Take politics, for instance. Speaking for myself, it is very hard to trust someone when they vote against transgender rights. How am I supposed to trust them when they don’t think of me in the same way? So, in this way, it’s no surprise that evil has come upon Kumandra for the first time in 500 years. The only difference between this film and real life is the film is a fantasy-adventure.
Blindspotting was the first film I ever saw on the ground in Park City during Sundance. Blindspotting director Carlos López Estrada steps into a different world but the result is no different. Estrada is every bit the winner as an animated filmmaker as he is with live-action. If this film gets more people watching Blindspotting, I’ll be very happy.
It’s way too early in the year but Disney could very well be on the way to another Oscar for Best Animated Feature. This film hits all the checkmarks. If you see it in theaters, almost-7-minute short film Us Again will screen before the feature.
What I will say for certain is Raya and the Last Dragon is an adventure that will have you in tears.
DIRECTORS: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada
CO-DIRECTORS: Paul Briggs, John Ripa
SCREENWRITERS: Qui Nguyen, Adele Lim
CAST: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Izaac Wang, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Jona Xiao, Sandra Oh, Thalia Tran, Lucille Soong, Alan Tudyk, Gordon Ip, Dichen Lachman, Patti Harrison, Jon “Dumbfoundead” Park, Sung Kang, Sierra Katow, Ross Butler, François Chau, Paul Yen