The reliable ‘Disney Magic’ formula is in place but given an appropriate shot in the arm with the studio’s visually flamboyant, culturally expansive newest, Raya and the Last Dragon. It is a welcome return of fan favorite Kelly Marie Tran, who had largely disappeared from public view after harassment by misogynistic Star Wars fan boys. In the title role, she voices the character with nuance and through a whole spectrum of emotions. It also features Awkwafina as the last dragon, Sisu, Gemma Chan as Namaari, Daniel Day Kim as Benja, Sandra Oh as Virana, and Benedict Wong as Tong. Beyond the endlessly gorgeous visuals, it is the vocal interpretations that bring the film to a compelling level, and raise the plot, which, though it offers exciting action, a fresh perspective, and Disney’s first Southeast Asian princess, is ultimately ‘Disney business as usual’.
In the fantasy world of Kumandra, humans and dragons joyfully live together since history began. When an evil force called the Druun threaten to destroy everything, the dragons sacrifice themselves to save humanity. Meanwhile, Kumandra’s tribes are split into 5 factions, which build their own societies over the next 500 years. Though the Heart faction holds the Dragon Gem, all the tribes secretly want the gem to secure longterm safety from the Druun for their people.
Benja (Kim) is chief of the Heart lands, and together with his daughter Raya (Tran), they are the Guardians of the Dragon Gem. When the Druun resurface and the gem is broken, Benja is turned to stone, along with most of humanity. It’s up to lone warrior Raya to seek out the mythological last dragon Sisu (Awkwafina), restore the world, and bring the many people trapped in body-prisons of stone back to life. Together, they forge ahead in a plot to save their land and bring Kumandra back into harmony. Of course the factions have other plans, and mistrust is rampant between them. This mistrust is best displayed in Namaari (Chan), of the Fang tribe. A powerful warrior and daughter of Fang Chief Virana (Oh), she is Raya’s equal as well as her arch nemesis. Helping Raya is a collection of quirky characters all broken from the loss of their families, including street kid Boun, Little Noi, a toddler with three monkey-catfish creatures in tow, and a gentle giant named Tong (Wong) who grieves for his stone-bound family.
For the full review, go to AWFJ.org HERE.