Director(s): Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada,
Writer(s): Qui Nguyen, Adele Lim
Cast: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan
Synopsis: In a realm known as Kumandra, a re-imagined Earth inhabited by an ancient civilization, a warrior named Raya is determined to find the last dragon.
Raya and the Last Dragon is a fun and expansive new project from Disney, and even if it doesn’t break new ground in terms of structure, it really pushes the envelope for how an animated film can look and feel. I have felt that Disney’s animation pushes their best ideas towards Pixar, and saves sequels and money makers for themselves, and I think this film would have done so well had it gotten a full theatrical release. There is a family-friendly element to this that would have pulled in people from all across the world to understand and resonate with this story.
The plot of this film was very straightforward and was structured in a way where you could sense the beats happening before they happened. I think Disney knew that, and I think they were just looking to make a straightforward film that could appeal to the masses. There isn’t a Pixar level of depth to the film as a whole, but it does do a fine job of expressing the message of the film in terms of trusting one another.
The animation in this film was gorgeous and continues to broaden the scope of how an animated film is supposed to look. While I do wish Disney could come up with some different designs, Sisu looked exactly like Elsa, I do think it was still wonderfully animated. Almost everything in this movie had a photorealistic feel to it, and some shots were so well developed they could have been put on a wall. But it wasn’t just the static shots that were beautiful, the action sequences were some of the most fluid and seamless animated action sequences I have ever seen. Raya, who had one of the coolest swords in film history, had a sense of grace to her movements that I haven’t seen in an animated film of this scale before.
The voice acting in this film was top-notch as well. Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina brought so much life to these characters, and I think were the biggest reason this film worked as well as it did. There was vibrant energy that was brought to these characters that really made you connect with them on an even deeper level of understanding. Even the supporting characters all brought a perfect blend of understanding and life to their characters.
Ultimately, this is a pure family animated film. It is cute enough to bring in kids and then is fun enough as an action-adventure film to give the adults something to grab on to. Just like every Disney, and especially Pixar, animated film there has to be an emotional arc, and I think Raya hits it quite beautifully. It’s a film about loving the people around you and learning to trust again, and I think it is another pretty solid outing from Disney.
Final: While Raya and the Last Dragon suffers from formulaic structuring and plots, it excels in its characters and beautiful animation, which include some of the best animated action scenes I’ve seen from Disney. A fun and cute film that feels like a middle ground between Moana and Frozen.
2021 Film Rankings
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.
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