Movie #163 2021: Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

The past year has forced many studios to adapt how they bring their films to you, there’s no disputing that. Disney did something pretty unique in that the majority of their new films came out on their streaming platform with an extra ‘Premium Access Pass’ fee, with the exception of Soul, which was a free ‘Christmas gift’ that was released on December 25th, 2020. Alongside Mulan and currently Cruella, Raya and the Last Dragon was one of the few to get that special treatment. (Don’t worry, it’s now free to all Disney+ subscribers.) But was it worth that £19.99 premiere price tag?

Raya and the Last Dragon stars Kelly Marie Tran (Star Wars) in the lead role of Raya, a young girl who is made the Guardian of the Heart Tribe when an evil being known as the Druun ravages their land, turning her father, many of the inhabitants and all but one dragon to stone. Years later, Raya seeks out Sisu, the last dragon (voiced by Awkwafina), in order to return their homeland to what it once was and bring back the people they lost.

Raya and the Last Dragon filmmakers discuss the movie's friendships -  Polygon

Before we get started on the film itself, I have to say that Con Baby is now perhaps my favourite animated character of all time. Not sorry. (You’ll have to give it a watch to truly understand her brilliance.)

Let’s talk about the animation to begin with. There are a bunch of outstanding aspects to the visuals in this movie, specifically the landscapes, the switch between 3D and 2D where appropriate, the hair, and OH MY GOD the water. If you’ve read any of my other reviews of animated films, you’ll realise that hair and water are very important to me. My only issue was with the animation itself was with the characters’ movements from time to time, which just seemed choppy and too obviously computer generated. Overall though, it wasn’t too distracting, and most of those mishaps are limited to the portions of the film that are set in the past.

In terms of the story there was clearly a lot of ground to cover, but I do wish it was just a tad shorter. Despite that, the world-building and the explanation of the lore is very well done, even if there’s not a single plot twist in sight. It tends not to matter regardless, as the themes of trust, found family and togetherness are very strong. Using our differences to unite and band together is a lesson that a lot of people need to hear right now, and I can only hope that children watching will take that on board. (Sorry to go all ‘peace and love’ on you, but it really in an important message.)

As star-laden as it is, this cast is super impressive on paper, and it’s also one of those rare times where that translates onto the screen. Of course they’re all brilliant, but there’s no doubt that Awkwafina steals the show with her wit and the obvious fun she had with the role of Sisu. I have no doubt that she’ll do more voice acting after this and it would be surprise me if the rest of the actors weren’t snapped up quickly as well.

On the whole, Raya wasn’t exactly my favourite Disney film of all time, but it’s definitely one of the more imaginative and unique in the studio’s filmography. Whilst it’s not a classic, it’s still a sweet movie.

Worth the £19.99? If I paid that to see this in the cinema, I’d say yes. But paying just shy of twenty quid for this movie in my own home? Probably not.

Raya and the Last Dragon is available to stream on Disney+ in the UK.

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