Warning: Some mild spoilers are included in this review.
The title of the film would have you believe that Raya and the Last Dragon is your typical search and rescue film. Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) needs to find the last dragon (Awkwafina) to save the world. If you want to break it down to the core basics, that is correct, but really this is a movie about trust. Along with what happens when there is distrust. In order for that important theme to come across successfully, the filmmakers are asking the audience to trust them. Take a shot every time I say trust. I keep bringing up the word because I believe how you feel about Raya and the Last Dragon will come down to whether or not you trust the decisions being made in the film.
The movie lets us know that 500 years prior to its current events, there was the united land of Kumandra; where people and dragons lived together peacefully. Of course, peace never lasts too long as the evil spirits known as Druun attacked Kumandra and turned the people into stone. The dragons came together to create the dragon gem which vanquished the Druun. However, in using the stone all but one of the dragons turn to stone. Since humans will be humans, they fight over the dragon gem, thus causing Kumandra to separate into five separate clans.
Back in the present, the five clans do not trust each other and their negative emotions release the Druun again. Raya is tasked with finding the last dragon and saving the world.
As I mentioned before, the film follows a familiar story of collect a motley crew, find a special object, and save the world. And for a movie whose target audience is kids, it works well. The overall theme of trust is mainly for the adults watching it and that works well too. Each character deals with some level of distrust, whether it be internal or external. The moral of this story isn’t just believe in yourself and you can overcome your doubts and insecurities. It is that you can’t just do it alone. We need each other in order to create lasting trust and ultimately peace. Which fits perfectly with the current state of the world today. It isn’t until Raya learns to trust her “enemy” that she is able to trust herself and defeat the Druun.
I personally enjoyed the film. I found the characters to be engaging and cute. The visuals of Raya and The Last Dragon are gorgeous and emphasizes the beauty of the Southeast Asian story. The voice acting is solid! The comedy at times is very childish but this is a kids’ film at the end of the day. Kids love jokes about butts and farts. The story is easy to follow along and overall I was entertained.
However, my biggest issue with the film is that the filmmakers don’t trust us with what is painfully obvious to any adult with eyes. Raya’s main antagonist is Namaari (Gemma Chan), who betrayed her at the beginning of the film. Raya trusted her too easily. It is continuously implied and hinted that Raya and Namaari have romantic feelings for each other but never just plainly stated. Why not? Disney has never made a full commitment to portraying or showcasing LGBTQ+ characters and stories. Raya and The Last Dragon is groundbreaking by giving Southeast Asians their first “Disney Princess,” but why must these two powerful characters be in the closet? Why does LGBTQ+ representation have to be a wink and a nod? In a film about trust, it’s sad that Disney can’t trust us to be accepting of queer characters.
I give Raya and The Last Dragon a B-
Raya and The Last Dragon is a positive step to telling stories about different cultures. It features strong female characters and a timely story about trust, acceptance, and the family we choose. But it fails to go all the way with its important message.
You can watch Raya and The Last Dragon on Disney+ Premiere Acess or in theaters.
What did you think of Disney’s latest animated film? Give us your review in the comments and online.