Raya and the Last Dragon is Walt Disney Animation Studios’ first original film since 2016’s Moana. As someone with a mixed South-East Asian ethnicity, I admit I was a little hesitant about Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon, however, all my worries subsided the more I soaked in everything that this new animated feature had to offer.
Firstly, Raya and the Last Dragon is an original story, so even though it is inspired by the South-East Asian cultures of Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar, Indonesia and Philippines, it does not carbon copy anything (specific emphasis on the word ‘inspired’). Many of the visual artists, voice-actors and team behind this film are of Asian-descent, so this wasn’t something I was ever really worried about.
The story is set in the fantasy land of Kumandra, once blessed with the existence and power of dragons, now split into several different lands due to humanity being unable to live harmoniously. The story is centred on Raya, a warrior woman on her quest to save the world. I know, the plotline may not sound new nor original, but the way that Raya and the Last Dragon unfolds is what makes this film so special.
Sure, the dragons may look like a combination of Falkor from NeverEnding Story and somewhat unicorn and My-Little-Pony-like with their vibrant colours, but for the most part, the visuals in Raya and the Last Dragon are stunning. No seriously, STUNNING. Whether it be the characters themselves, the animation of water, mist or clouds, everything in this film spectacular. You really do feel like you’re witnessing magic happen before your eyes.
A highlight regarding the visuals is the way Raya and the Last Dragon showcases a particular fight scene. It not only really impressed me, but it reminded me a lot of martial art action films that I used to watch from the 90s. I really felt that Disney did their research. Honestly, the design and colours of the dragons (if you had any issues) is forgivable due to the in-depth and heartfelt story. The way that the film’s narrative flows is consistent, seems effortless, whilst also providing detailed growth to all its characters.
Kelly Marie Tran is wonderful as Raya. She is fierce, courageous but is not without her flaws and doubts. Her character feels human and extremely relatable. Gemma Chan, Sandra Oh and Daniel Dae Kim are great in their roles as Namaari, Virana and Chief Benja. Benedict Wong is brilliant as his character, warrior giant Tong and I was thoroughly impressed by the voice acting skills Izaac Wang who plays Boun, a young captain and entrepreneur. Even Disney’s good luck charm Alan Tudyk makes an appearance, voicing Raya’s trusty steed, pet and friend Tuk Tuk. But the standout performance of this film would hands down be Awkwafina‘s. Although Awkwafina does have a very recognisable and unique voice, her voice acting chops are so superb, I practically was mesmerised the entire time by her portrayal of Sisu the dragon. She was perfect.
As stated, the concept of a film being about a hero who tries to save the world may seem common, but this film is anything but common. Raya and the Last Dragon dazzled me, held me on the edge of my seat, kept me guessing and even moved me to tears (understatement, I was sobbing). It’s been a long time since I have seen a film that I could not predict the ending for. With themes of peace, trust and forgiveness, this action-packed animation is exactly the film that we need right now. It is a must-see on the big screen and is honestly one of the best original animated films I have seen in a long time. I LOVE Raya and the Last Dragon.