Review: Raya and the Last Dragon

Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon, directed by Don Hall (Big Hero 6) and Carlos Lopez Estrada (Blindspotting) takes place in the world of Kumandra where humans and dragons once lived together. After their world was threatened by monsters known as the Druun, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Hundreds of years later, there are no more dragons left and Kumandra is separated into tribes.

The story catches up to Chief Benja (Daniel Dae Kim) as he teaches his daughter Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) about brining peace to Kumandra by uniting the various tribes. One day when the dragon gem is broken, pieces of it are taken by the various tribes. With the dragon gem broken, the evil Druun return and wreck havoc on Kumandra.

Raya sets out on a quest, with Tuk Tuk, to find Sisu the last dragon (Akwafina) and collect the pieces of the dragon gem to save Kumandra. Meanwhile, Raya is being chased by her rival Namaari (Gemma Chan) who is looking to collect the pieces of the dragon gem as well.

Raya and the Last Dragon is one of the best original Disney films in years. The animation is stunning (we’ll get to that later) and the story is fast paced and fun like an adventure film should be. It’s a mix of Indiana Jones, Moana, and Mulan with some of the Disney magic sprinkled on top. The amount of detail during the action scenes is breathtaking and that leads to some really fun fight scenes.

The animation is the star of the film. It is eye popping and some of the best animation work done in years. They skillfully surround the characters with light, dark, shades, and shadows to make them stand out. It helps enhance the texture in some scenes and color in others. It’s difficult to not be in awe of what these animators were able to do. 

It’s not Disney without a few heartfelt moments. There are some toughing scenes with Raya and some of the supporting characters, especially with Boun (Izaac Wang) a kid that lost his parents when the Druun attacked. It’s the kind of heartfelt storytelling you’d expect in a Disney film.

Somewhere underneath the stunning animation and Disney magic is a story about trust. It’s a simple lesson, yet a lesson kids (and some adults) watching Raya and the Last Dragon will learn from. For people that have grown up on Disney films, the plot will feel familiar at times and somewhat predictable. None of that hinders Raya from being a joyous time at the movies for all ages.

Grade: B+