Disney Animation delivers an action-packed epic that is absolutely thrilling in every way. Raya and the last dragon is packed with martial arts fights, tough sword duels and a mischievous con artist who almost steals the show. The well-written plot teaches valuable lessons about trust, friendship and the divisive nature of tribalism. The film explores the folly of war with surprising depth and nuance. Children will leave Raya and the last dragon very entertained and hopefully more empathetic.
Raya and the last dragon takes place in an ancient land known as Kumandra. Humans and dragons lived in blissful harmony until evil entities, the Druun, attacked without mercy. Humans and dragons were turned to stone by their dark magic. The last dragon, Sisu (Awkwafina), used her incredible powers to defeat the Druun. The stone people returned to normal, but the dragons did not. Sisu mysteriously disappeared, leaving the Dragon Gem as the sole weapon against the Druun’s return.
Five hundred years later, humanity has broken up into five warring societies named after body parts of dragons. The Realm of Hearts protected the Dragon Gem and thrived, while the others bickered and struggled. Chief Benja (Daniel Dae Kim), the Heart Leader, believes Kumandra can rise again. He invites Fang, Tail, Talon and Spine to a peace summit. His young daughter, Raya (Kelly Marie Tran), has trained diligently to become a Guardian of the Dragon Gem. She is suspicious and wary of the other kingdoms.
At the top, Raya meets Namaari (Gemma Chan), a fellow “dragon nerd” and princess of the fang. When Chief Benja’s hopes are shattered by a shocking betrayal, the resulting fracas unleash the Druun ghosts back into the world. Raya, along with her trusty rolling sidekick, an armadillo / pill bug named Tuk Tuk (Alan Tudyk), embark on a desperate quest to find Sisu and defeat the Druun forever.
The fear of ‘others’ and the blinding effect of hate are carefully addressed in the film. Raya’s experiences have reinforced her negative beliefs. She has no faith in people at all. Raya’s discovery of Sisu challenges her perception. The dragon is not what she expected. Sisu is kind, trusting and far from the formidable warrior of legendary lore. Sisu preaches that differences can be overcome for a greater good. Such kindness and compassion are the greatest weapons against tyranny.
The supporting characters are a hoot. Raya gets very different allies on her journey. My favorite is a thieving “scammer”, you read that right, named Noi (Thalia Tran). The toddler terror and her gang of Ongis, weird monkey-like creatures, are hilarious. They look cute and harmless. Then grab your pocket and transform into an elite tactical assault team. Noi and the Ongis led a raid that made me laugh out loud.
The movie has excellent animations and fight choreographies. Sword fighting is a lot of fun, but hand to hand fighting is just as great. Raya and the last dragon is an action extravaganza from start to finish. The violence is clearly stylized, but not without consequences. Characters get hurt and hurt. Their mortality represents another important learning point in the story. Being the best individual fighter does not guarantee victory.
Raya and the last dragon continues with Disney’s themes of women’s empowerment and cultural inclusion. Raya, Namaari and Sisu are Asian characters who symbolize the power of teamwork. The film brilliantly brings their hopeful story to a worldwide audience. Increase your expectations. Raya and the last dragon is produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures. It will be released in theaters on March 5 with a concurrent Premiere Access streaming debut on Disney +.
Topics: Raya and the Last Dragon, Disney Plus, Streaming
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