I have always felt that these days, Disney-Slash-Pixar titles seem to get all of the attention in the animation game. Which in a way is alright (SOUL, the latest Pixar movie, was my #1 movie of 2020) but there is another aspect to Disney that gets overlooked these days is its Walt Disney Animation Studios department which has been consistently turning out wonderful product along their Emeryville, California partners. The latest in the Mouse House productions, RAYA & THE LAST DRAGON is a stunning animated experience that has a lot of traditional storytelling of Disney yet also has some fresh new ideas and characters up its sleeve.
The story is set in the fictional world of Kumandra, where half a millennium ago the entire nation was united and was also full of dragons all co-existing. A plague swept in around by monsters known as the Drunn and all of the dragons sacrificed themselves to save the humans. Cut to 500 years later and Raya (voiced by Kelly Matrie Tran from STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI) is a young warrior who becomes involved when the Drunn come to wreak havoc again, and she figures out how to summon the very last dragon to help overturn them. She finds the dragon named Sisu (who is voiced in a very amusing tone by Awkwafina) and a grand adventure begins, hoping that dragons can once be in the world in a solid good-versus-evil story.
As always, the more I talk about the story and the more I reveal, the less you’ll discover upon viewing so I kept it brief for you to discover. Raya herself is a great lead character and one I think that will connect especially with little girls who, I hope, will be inspired by her can-do attitude. She is surrounded by some solid characters and while her relationship Sisu is highly amusing (especially when she can quickly shift from an oversized dragon and into human form), her little companion Tuk-Tuk alone steals the show; this little friend on her shoulder could have come across as cliche, but here he not only has the “aww, how cute” factor but also becomes VERY useful when needed for transport.
Though RAYA is all computer animation, there are also little wonderful bits of traditional animation and design here, especially in the opening story-building sequence where we see some traditional Chinese-paper style sequences that really made me smile. It almost goes without saying that these movies look breathtaking in every shot, and RAYA is no exception as it one-ups it by mixing things up. Filmmakers Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada use so much of the animation technique to tell this very complex story, but one that I think people of all ages will appreciate in their own way. I always grow so very tired of these movies being labelled as “cartoons” or only for families. This adult male was gripped for its entire running time, which is pretty packed at just over 100 minutes.
RAYA feels very busy at times and a little overstuffed in its exposition (I felt at some points I was being explained to instead of being shown) but it more than makes up for it in an action-packed second half where I felt much more invested than I thought I would be.
RAYA & THE LAST DRAGON is opening in select theatres in the United States & Canada, along with availability on Disney+ Premiere Access for an additional charge on top of a Disney+ subscription. Our thanks as always to the team at Disney PR Canada for sending along a screening link for review.
If you are lucky enough to catch RAYA in a theater this weekend (of course, Team GRM promote Safe Moviegoing — Do Moviegoing Healthy and follow local guidances to keep you and your fellow moviegoers safe and healthy, PLEASE!) you will also be treated to the wonderful animated short film US AGAIN, which is just a sublime city and dancing experience on the subject of living your life to the best at any age… in just 7 short minutes. AND SEE MORE SHORT FILMS!!!!