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RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON review- Vibrant, fun, and action packed!

Raya and the Last Dragon will debut on Disney+ and arrive in theaters on March 5th, 2021.

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Raya and the Last Dragon (Disney)

I love animated films. Especially Disney’s animated films. So, when Raya and the Last Dragon was first announced part of me knew that it was going to be a special one. Don’t get me wrong, I will sing “Show Yourself” and “Let it go” spontaneously in my room or even in public. I love the musicals like Frozen, Moana, and Tangled but it has been quite a while since we’ve had a Walt Disney animated film that isn’t a musical. If memory serves me correctly Big Hero 6 (2014) and Zootopia (2016) were the last non-musical films. Just to clarify, Ralph Breaks the Internet had a musical number in it. My point still stands though. It has been a while.

I have been eagerly waiting for Raya and the Last Dragon and I had the absolutely pleasure of watching it yesterday. I’m here today to fully nerd-out about Raya, Dragons, and the beautiful triumph that is Raya and the Last Dragon.

Raya and the Last Dragon takes place in the fictional world of Kumandra, a once unified place where humans and dragons lived in prosperity together. However, that all changed when the Druun appeared and began turning everything to stone. The dragons sacrificed themselves by creating a beautiful gemstone that drove the Druun away. 500 years later, humanity has fragmented and split into five separate locations- Heart, Fang, Spine, Tail, and Talon. During an attempt to unify the land, the dragon’s gemstone is broken and the Druun are unleashed once more. Raya goes on a perilous journey to locate the last dragon and reunite the fragments of the gemstone to save her father and the world.

As an animated film, Raya is absolutely gorgeous. What really helps this film stand out is the plethora of vibrant locations. Each main location is named after a part of a dragon and they each have their own ecosystem. So, there is this immediate diversity in terms of location and it allows for a more immersive experience. Each area has its own unique glow. It could be the weather, colour, terrain, or even the way of living. When Raya and her posse visit each location, it’s like a brand-new adventure. Granted, you don’t tend to stay in these locations for very long but it’s a really nice way to build the world and have it stand out.

Additionally, Kumandra actually plays a big role in the film’s overarching theme. Raya believes that Kumandra isn’t possible because people are greedy and cruel, yet here we are gaining allies from each area. What that does is gradually sway Raya’s belief. Here she is working with people from Spine, Talon, and Tail. Fang is a different story. Not only does it change Raya’s heart, which is funny because she lives in Heart, but it allows us to see how the Drunn has impacted everyone. How areas are coping with loss, how individuals are managing on their own, and how others are using the Druun to their advantage. Within one narrative, we get five characters with one common goal yet five different stories. We don’t get to explore them all in depth, but we get enough to truly care and understand these characters.

This element becomes very critical when dealing with the relationship between Raya and Namaari, a warrior from Fang. I don’t want to class Namaari as an antagonist. Mainly because I don’t see her as one. She’s a misunderstood obstacle. But the relationship between the two warriors actually unearths a very real realisation that makes Raya and the Last Dragon appear more grownup. Raya isn’t the hero we believe she is and Namaari isn’t the villain we think she is. They both falter and make questionable decisions. But at the end of the day, they are both trying to do what is best and shouldering Raya with that crushing weight of distrust leads to a really surprising final act that not only mirrors Sisu’s story, but brings the entire narrative together.

Trust becomes a big prevalent theme in Raya and it leads to some very nasty consequences. I think that’s what drew me to Raya as a character. She isn’t perfect and she’s carrying this responsibility that she believes is purely her own. Watching her level of distrust rise and fall became a really interesting component that stuck with me throughout the entire film.

When it comes to the cast, there is no possible way to fault them. The wonderful Kelly Marie Tran provides Raya with a determined strength as well as that dorky side that makes her incredibly likeable and fun. Awkwafina brings Sisu to life in a very fun way. She becomes the heart of film and was actually the character I laughed most at. There are some incredibly scenarios in Raya that are made funnier by Awkwafina’s charm and innocent demeaner. Gemma Chan’s Namaari is an interesting one. Much like Raya, there’s a strength to her which becomes instantly obvious thanks to Chan’s delivery, but there’s also this aura of regret that makes her vulnerable yet she tries bury it, particularly when facing Raya. The entire cast is fantastic and I’d be here all day going through every character that I loved.

I can’t really move on without talking about the action sequences from Raya and the Last Dragon. Some Disney films have action/fight scenes in them. However, I would argue that it is typically in small doses and incredibly tame. Raya and the Last Dragon blew my expectations out of the water. I am a huge fan of hand-to-hand combat as well as close combat. It is so evident that a lot of work went into choreographing and creating these sequences. They are probably some of the best fight scenes I have seen in an animated movie. They are slick, well-paced, heavy hitting, and incredibly cool.

Drawing on multiple martial art forms, Raya and the Last Dragon is able to pull off some insane sequences that will have you completely enthralled. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the small details, the way characters moved, the different stances, and the intensity of it all. There’s so much to love about Raya and the Last Dragon, but the combat is easily at the top of the list.

Raya and the Last Dragon is not only a fantastic movie, it is also an outstanding piece of animation. It is full of life, colour, and detail. It’s also important to add that this film is wonderfully bound together with an amazing score by James Newton Howard. It perfectly evokes the overall setting of this film as well as the mystical and fun elements. You may not be able to singalong, but I guarantee you’ll be tapping and humming away long after you’ve finished your viewing.

The only criticism I have comes from my love of dragons. You get to see a lot of dragons in this film and I think they lacked variation in terms of their visual appearance. That’s all I have. To put it simply, I just had a lot of fun watching Raya and the Last Dragon. I felt immersed, I had fun, and I cared about what was happening. I would love to explore Kumandra more, whether that happens or not is anyone’s guess but at the moment I am just glad that we got a film like Raya.

Raya and the Last Dragon will debut on Disney+ via their Premier Access on March 5th, 2021. To enjoy Raya in all of its glory, Disney+ subscribers can stream it and enjoy it as many times as they like with a one-off payment of £19.99- You can learn more here.


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