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Raya and the Last Dragon (2021) Review

RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON

Raya and The Last Dragon

Time: 107 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Violence
Voice Cast:
Kelly Marie Tran as Raya
Awkwafina as Sisu
Izaac Wang as Boun
Gemma Chan as Namaari
Daniel Dae Kim as Chief Benja
Benedict Wong as Tong
Sandra Oh as Virana
Thalia Tran as Little Noi
Lucille Soong as Dang Hu
Alan Tudyk as Tuk Tuk
Director: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada

Long ago, in the fantasy world of Kumandra, humans and dragons lived together in harmony. However, when sinister monsters known as the Druun threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, 500 years later, those same monsters have returned, and it’s up to a lone warrior (Kelly Marie Tran) to track down the last dragon and stop the Druun for good.

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I had heard about Raya and the Last Dragon for the past months, it’s the latest Disney animated movie and it looked pretty good from the trailers. I wasn’t really sure what to expect going in, but the movie actually turned out better than I expected it to be.

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Raya and the Last Dragon is an exhilarating and beautifully told fantasy adventure. The storylines and characters that inhabit this world were unique and interesting to watch (although I could’ve done without the baby and monkeys). The movie does move very fast, and I was quite invested in the story. There were some moments where the film could have slowed down a little, but on the whole the fast pace works to the film’s benefit. I liked the movie from the very start, but it really finds its footing when the main group of characters begin to get assembled. As Raya meets these new characters, she has to learn to trust them and pretty quickly, you can pick up that trust is the main moral and message of this story. With the addition of each new character, Raya learns a lot from her new friends and takes the first step in putting her trust in someone else. So thematically, the movie has plenty to offer. It does quite well in terms of world-building, and by the end I actually wanted a bit more from this world. One thing to note is that the movie doesn’t have musical numbers where characters suddenly burst into song, and while it’s to be expected from Disney animated movies, I actually like that they don’t have them here. It is a risk for them when they have such a wide target audience, but I’d say it pays off. Something that has been said about this movie which I will repeat myself as well is that the plot is very predictable and derivative, and structurally it may appear to be similar to other Disney animated movies like Moana or Tangled. The fetch quest, band-forming and lesson-learning genre has been done to death by now, but that didn’t make it any less investing for me. Despite its familiarity, it manages to keep it at least a little interesting throughout. Its humour doesn’t always land as well as it potentially could’ve, especially with how they implemented it in the movie and overall story. It’s not necessarily bad and it isn’t a dealbreaker, but truth be told, only some of the jokes really hit. There are some essential exposition dumps that could’ve been done slightly better, but it’s at the level of most modern day animated movies and again aren’t a dealbreaker.

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There’s a solid lineup of characters in this movie, and the voice cast are great playing them. Kelly Marie Tran is perfect as protagonist Raya, Awkwafina is a scene stealer as Sisu (the last dragon), and Gemma Chan is also a standout as the character of Namaar.

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Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada directs Raya and the Last Dragon greatly. First of all, the animation is stunning, this is probably some of Disney’s best animation, absolutely stellar and gorgeous. There are a number of settings and places here that are immaculately presented here. Each location, character, object, or detail feels so profoundly gorgeous. What particularly stood out was the action, which was insanely good. The swordplay and hand to hand combat is sleek, and the combination of martial arts techniques were used so effectively. With this and the film’s incredible lighting, Raya and the Last Dragon makes for an awesome visual experience, and honestly it is worth watching the movie for that alone. Additionally, James Newton Howard’s score is powerful and enthralling, especially during the action sequences.

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Raya and the Last Dragon is a solid and very well-made animated movie. It has a familiar and somewhat predictable story but it’s entertaining and works for what it is, with some enjoyable characters. Additionally, the voice cast are great and it’s beautifully animated. Definitely worth watching.