I have nothing but positive things to say regarding Disney’s latest release.
WARNING: This review contains spoilers.
By Melissa Farthing, Copy Editor
It had been officially over one year since I stepped foot inside a movie theater. Until I went to see Disney’s newest animated flick, that is.
Raya and the Last Dragon was released on March 5th to theaters and on Disney+…for a $30 additional fee. Yeah, I wasn’t a massive fan of that price, so I decided to pay six dollars for a matinee showing at the Huntington 7 instead. I have to admit that it felt amazing to be inside a theater again, even though it was eerily empty. I remember seeing Frozen II with my friends at the same location and not getting one SEAT during the first showing of the day. Ahh…pre-pandemic memories…
Auditorium #2 only had two other families seated inside who were spaced plenty of feet apart, so I felt safe and free to enjoy myself. When the lights dimmed, we were treated to the short film Us Again before the feature. I’m not sure if Us Again is included with the fee on Disney+, but there’s another incentive to go with the theater over streaming if it isn’t. It was such a fun and colorful appetizer to the main course!
Speaking of the “main course,” I have to say that I was wholly captivated within the first five seconds of the film. The animation and music in Raya’s opening (as well as the rest of the film) were breathtakingly beautiful and immersive. They immediately had me wanting to experience this world—named Kumandra—and its people, which we thankfully got plenty of during the movie’s two-hour running time.
As Raya continued playing, the main storyline became clear: When the magical Dragon Gem is accidentally shattered due to a young Raya’s mistake, it summons the Druun, shadow-like creatures that turn people to stone. Each of Kumandra’s five tribes obtains a piece of the Gem before the Druun take over, including Raya. After six years of searching, Raya finally finds the “last dragon,” Sisu, whom some believed to be just a myth. With Sisu’s help, Raya must gather all five Dragon Gem pieces to bring back the other dragons (now turned to stone) and ward off the Druun for good.
Some negative reviews say that this plot is “too simple,” but you have to remember that Disney makes movies primarily for children and families. I’d much rather have a plot that’s “simple” than a story that’s insanely confusing to follow (and for the record, I found this story to be anything but boring!). I loved how Raya and Sisu got to explore each land of Kumandra while searching for the Dragon Gem. Although some tribes were touched on less than others, it was still interesting to see how each group of people differentiated. I also loved that a member from each land joined Raya on her quest to find the Gem. A unique ensemble of characters was created this way.
This movie got pretty intense at times, from the impressive fight scenes to the characters’ emotional moments. I nearly cried when Raya and her dad were reunited, and it hurt deeply to see Sisu get shot (She was unsurprisingly revived at the film’s end). Although Raya is meant for family viewing, I can see how it could get too scary for younger kids. However, it was awesome for older Disney fans like me.
I also laughed quite a bit during the movie, which seems to be happening less often with animated features. I haven’t loved what I’ve seen of Awkwafina’s work, but her voiceover of Sisu brought some appreciated sarcastic humor to the script. My favorite line had to be when Raya proclaimed that she still had a chunk of the Gem, and Sisu replied with, “Is that supposed to make me feel better? If you lost a puppy, and I said, ‘Well, we still have a big chunk of it,’ would that make you feel better?!” Boun also had some funny quips sprinkled in.
Overall, I was “wowed” by Raya and the Last Dragon. With all of the horrific attacks against Asians happening in our country right now, what better time for Disney to release a film that embraces and celebrates Southeast Asian culture. Although Kumandra is a fictional land, the filmmakers visited countries in Southeast Asia, such as Laos and Thailand, as inspiration for the movie. I certainly have a strong desire to visit those countries after seeing the film, as the background design was magnificent. Hopefully, Raya and the Last Dragon will be another fantastic addition to the growing diversity of Hollywood.