Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

Raya and the Last Dragon (2021) Cover

Raya and The Last Dragon tells the story of a warrior named Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) who is determined to find magicals gems which can summon the last dragon on Earth. It is believed that this dragon, Sisu (Awkwafina), can use magic that can restore peace in a world inhabited by chaos and division. This film will be in theaters and streaming on Disney+ for a Premier Access cost (similar to 2020’s Mulan) beginning March 5th until it is free on the platform June 2021.

Complex backstory and fantasy elements might have been difficult to follow but Walt Disney Animation Studios does a superb job at communicating all the history (that is essential to follow the plot) in a compellingly strong way with beautifully animated motion graphics. While a vast amount of the history of this world could’ve been told in a conventional manner where one character tells another via dialogue; instead, we get narration from the lead character with those beautifully stunning visuals.

Protagonist Raya and Antagonist Namaari (Gemma Chan) are intricately fleshed out and you understand the motive behind each one’s actions. Sisu the Dragon provides a bunch of clever humor both adults and kids can laugh at. The supporting character Boun (Izaac Wang), was the only interesting supporting character that tags along on Raya’s journey- he, like Sisu, is humorous and admirable. A warrior giant named Tong (Benedict Wong) and a baby con artist called Little Noi (Thalia Tran) were forgettable, lacked depth, and stuffed the story with unneeded filler characters whose existence is purely for their unique abilities to assist Raya advance the plot. They themselves feel like hallow shells.

Trusting others is a theme explored and supports the idea that the world can find peace if everyone can choose to trust others. “We can’t trust anyone because the world is broken” says Raya. Sisu replies, “Or maybe the world is broken because you don’t trust anyone” As someone who has trust issues, similar to Raya the protagonist, I found this theme to be positively sweet but perhaps unrealistic; simply because we can’t control how others respond when we offer trust and the real truth is that we have to be weary about who we trust because choosing to trust could backfire. This is evident when the naive dragon Sisu chooses to trust the inhabitants of the Talon land and they tell her “Big mistake,” throwing her beyond their protective walls. Despite supporting characters being unmemorable, one could argue that their existence supports the theme of trust and that by Raya choosing to trust these characters she ends up benefitting from the skills that they have. Raya may not have completed as much of her journey without choosing to trust them; conversely we as people may not be able to get as far without choosing to trust others.

The plot is a bit formulaic and predictable as there’s various lands that we are told in advance need to be traveled to and you see Raya, like clockwork, head to each one. There’s a few pivotal events that happen (that I will not spoil) that I called in advance and most of these events do happen just as predicted. There’s very little the film does to subvert expectations. However, the pacing and extremely fast-paced storytelling do a fair job at holding the audience’s attention despite its predictability. 

The characters that are fleshed out, astonishing extravagant visuals, clever humor, and positive themes of trust are all reasons why Raya and The Last Dragon is worth watching. If choosing to watch in a theater, you will also get to see the 7 minute short film Us Again which will play before the start of the film. This short will not be on Disney+ until June 2021.

Final Verdict:The characters that are fleshed out, astonishing extravagant visuals, clever humor, and positive themes of trust are all reasons why Raya and The Last Dragon is worth watching