Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)
Directed by: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada, Paul Briggs, John Ripa | 107 minutes | animation, action | Original voice cast: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Izaac Wang, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Jona Xiao, Sandra Oh, Thalia Tran, Lucille Soong, Alan Tudyk, Dichen Lachman, Sung Kang
In the mythical realm of Kumandra, humans and dragons live in harmony with each other for a long time. Then the Druun appear, purple monstrous apparitions that petrify everyone they touch. The dragons fight the Druun, but the monsters are not defeated until the last dragon, Sisu, manages to defeat them by joining forces in a Dragon Stone. In the dragonless world, the people fight over who can possess the Dragonstone and Kumandra breaks down into a number of realms with their own characteristics: Tail (desert world), Tooth (fiery world), Claw (a floating market), Rug (mountainous bamboo forest) and the flowery, temperate Heart.
Five hundred years after the Druun were expelled, Hart lives the tough princess Raya, daughter of Chief Benja. Her family protects the Dragonstone. When Raya naively trusts the Tooth girl Namaari and leads her to the Dragon Stone, it turns out she has a double agenda and wants to steal the stone. In the ensuing quarrel between the nations, the Dragonstone breaks and each nation grabs a piece of the Dragonstone. Immediately the Druun return and ravage the lands. Raya embarks on a years-long quest for Sisu and the rest of the Dragonstone to avert the Druun’s doom.
‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ is another beautifully animated fantasy adventure from the Disney studio. The trend of not portraying a typical Disney princess is continued with Raya (Kelly Marie Tran, Dutch voice Tabitha Foen-a-Foe). She is a resourceful girl, later young woman, who gets help from some nice sidekicks. Her pet Tuk Tuk, an animal that is difficult to define, which also serves as a convenient means of transport, is one of them. She also gets help from ten-year-old Boun, the warrior Tong and the nimble-fingered toddler Noi. They are connected because they all have family petrified by the Druun. But the star of the show is Sisu the dragon herself (Awkwafina, Dutch voice Peggy Vrijens). Sisu is a luminous blue with a slender body, two horns on her head and a full head of mane, but she can also disguise herself as a human. Meanwhile, they are pursued by Namaari, who is still chasing the shards of the Dragonstone.
The film is breathtakingly beautifully designed. Every time you think animation couldn’t get any better, it turns out that the magicians at Disney are taking technology a little further. The details are amazing: dust rises and falls, clothes move realistically with the characters’ movements and the way the water flows is almost lifelike.
The story is exciting for children, with a lot of action, fight scenes, but also with humor in perspective. However, the power of repetition is stretched quite a bit. Of course, the film also has a message: that of cooperation, friendship and trust. Furthermore, the plot is not really very original and largely follows the well-known Disney formulas. That makes the film a bit predictable at times. It also takes a while for the film to really get going, as the makers first have to subtly weave the background information surrounding the former empire Kumandra into the story. That’s not really disturbing though. After twenty minutes we make a time jump of six years and the action really gets going.
‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ is great entertainment for the kids – and it’s nice for the parents that the (melodramatic) songs are omitted.