Maybe it’s the division politics has created, maybe it’s the pandemic we’re currently experiencing, who knows, but the messages coming through in this Disney film make it one of the most compelling and the most potent that I’ve seen yet. With its characters looking like dolls sitting on your shelves, of which there’s no doubt every fan will soon have, the animation is breathtakingly gorgeous. You’ll revel in what this film says and does and in the fantasy world that it creates for you.
Directors Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada may not have known it when they signed on the dotted line, but I assure you that they know it now; that they made the right decision, agreeing to bring writers, Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim’s creation to life. Set in Southeast Asia, they’ve turned a story that begins 500 years in the future into a compelling, action-filled drama that will have the whole family on the edge of their seats and fighting over the box of tissues.
When the land of Kumandra was whole, people lived harmoniously amongst the magical dragons. These dragons helped them in many ways, especially bringing water to the lands. It was a virtual paradise. That is until the awful Druun came into the picture. The Druun, the dragons’ opposite, is a plague born of human discord. The black and purple fog lies in wait for a moment of weakness to strike. It sweeps across an area, turning every living thing it touches into stone where they stood. Think Pompeii, and you’ll get the picture.
Sisu and her siblings were the last dragons left. They got together and took all the magic they could muster and turned it into a powerful gem. The gem was so strong; surely it would stop the Druun. One dragon, Sisu, was left to attempt beating the evil plague. It worked. Not only did it hold back the awful Druun but blasted it and what it had done completely away, bringing the people of Kumandra back to life. Though the humans came back, the dragons did not. All that was left was the gem.
The story turned Sisu into a legend. Because of her sacrifice, everyone worshipped her. The legend grew tall.
The country divided, becoming five factions that built borders to keep the others out. Each one was named after a piece of the dragon. There is Tail, Talon, Spine, Fang, and Heart.
It’s 500 years later. Here’s where we meet a young warrior princess named Raya (Kelly Marie Tran). Her story begins in Heart. The leaders of Tail, Talon, Spine, or Fang will agree to speak with the other, making reconciliation an impossibility at this point. Raya’s father, Benja (Daniel Dae Kim), chief of Heart, hopes to rectify this. His deepest wish is to be the leader who takes the first step to mend relations with the other factions and leave a better world for his daughter. He knows this will be difficult because the gem is on his land, and the other societies believe he has magic that they do not. They’re jealous and don’t look too favorably on Heart, who has become the gem’s de facto guardians.
He’s willing to make an attempt anyway, even though his young Raya is skeptical. Regardless, a meeting is arranged and agreed upon. During the meeting, Raya makes a new friend from Fang, Princess Namaari. They have fun together and talk dragons.
Fang is generally the most dishonest, but Raya finds herself having a good time, keeping her suspicions in check.
Something happens, and the gem is broken into pieces, splintering, not only the gem but their chances of repairing the damaged fellowships… possibly forever. Each sect takes a piece of the gem, with its still glowing healing powers, and runs back to their own homeland.
It’s a few years later, and Raya searches through the drylands, looking for what could be left of a river. She has her piece of the gem, hoping she can find Sisu. Someone had once told Raya that Sisu was at the end of one of the rivers, of which there were many. This is the final one and the end of her chances.
With the last of humanity barely hanging on, coming across a magical dragon is her only hope. Though the potential is thin, it’s worth a try.
She comes to an old shipwreck near a cave. At her wit’s end, she prays.
In a sensational and amusing scene, Sisu forms. She has no idea where she is or when it is. The talented, Awkwafina voices her so you can imagine the hilarity in the tenor. Together, they gather a team to help them procure each piece of stone to turn it whole again and make Kumandra a harmonious place to live again, bringing everyone back to life.
Before this can happen, there are some impressive, lifelike martial arts fighting scenes that will dazzle you. I can’t go into much more without revealing something you’ll wish I hadn’t.
I’ll end this by suggesting that you see this and as quickly as possible. It’s beautiful, it’s powerful, and it’s for everyone. Though I’m an admitted wimp, I was moved to tears.
What drives the movie is that the backstory is exceptionally well told. The characters are fantastic, the score is gorgeous, marvelous visually, and it handles subjects that touch us today in an almost subliminal way. It’s remarkable how a Disney film can say and achieve so much in such a short amount of time. The themes presented in the film need some attention from the human race, so it’s not at all a bad thing. They will be noticed and absorbed.
*I urge you, see this on the big screen if you can! Walt Disney Animation Studios’ ‘Raya and the Last Dragon” will be available on Disney+ with Premier Access in most Disney+ markets, at the same time as it is released in select theaters on March 5, 2021.
Trust me! There is no price too large to see such a phenomenal, animated film.
Raya and the Last Dragon
Directors: Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada
Co-Directors: Paul Briggs and John Ripa
Writers: Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim
Stars: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Sandra Oh, Benedict Wong, Izaac Wang, Thalia Tran, Alan Tudyk, Lucille Soong, Patti Harrison and Ross Butler
Running Time: 1h 54m
Genres: Animation, Action, Adventure