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Raya and the Last Dragon: An Immensely Enjoyable Film That Will Put a Smile on Your Face

March 2, 2021
Poster courtesy of Disney

Quick Thoughts: Raya and the Last Dragon is an absolute delight that will put a smile on your face. The animation is beautiful, the voicework is solid, and there’s a cute armadillo/pill bug hybrid called Tuk Tuk. Also, there’s a nod to The Last Dragon, which I love. 

Directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada (Blindspotting, Legion) and Don Hall (Big Hero 6), and written by Adele Lim (Crazy Rich Asians) and Qui Nguyen, Raya and the Last Dragon focuses on a princess named Raya (Kellie Marie Tran) attempting to find the last dragon before jerky monsters called Druun (think the smoke monster from Lost) turn all of the populace in stone statues.

What makes the film work so well is that it exists in a fully fleshed out world full of dragons, evil smoke blobs and gigantic roly-poly-esque dog creatures. In the beginning of the movie, we learn that dragons and humans lived together peacefully, until smoke monsters called the Druun (caused by human discord) started turning everything and everyone into stone statues. The dragons fought hard to defeat the Druun, but were eventually defeated, and they left behind one glowing orb that held the last of their magic. Then, instead of uniting around the last of the dragon magic, the human clans divided into five nations (Tail, Spine, Heart, Fang, Talon) and battled each other for control of the orb. Eventually, things go bad, the world is broken again, and Raya has to travel to all five nations to find Sisu (Awkwafina = so good), the last dragon, and put the glowing orb back together. 

On top of having likable characters, thrilling set pieces, and sassy baby gangs (you’ll see), Raya and the Last Dragon moves forward at a breakneck speed that never feels rushed. The 114-minute running time flies by (I’ve watched it twice already), as new characters are constantly added to Raya’s entourage of “Druun buttkickers” as she travels from territory to territory collecting pieces of the orb. Her journeys to each new territory also give us legit action scenes that showoff her amazing sword (you’ll love it), fighting prowess, and introduce us to mango-loving warriors who threaten Raya by threatening her with painful non-specific violence. 

Photo courtesy of Disney

The plot about learning to trust again feels especially relevant today, and Sisu’s positive attitude is infectious throughout. Normally, having eight credited writers or “story by” credits (and four total directors) are an indication of a paint-by-numbers script, but Raya never feels like a committee whittled it down into nothingness. The plot and its themes are layered and logical, and despite a few frustrating moments, the movie earns everything it builds towards. Basically, when things start going down, you’ll find yourself feeling incredibly nervous about who survives the journey.

Raya and the Last Dragon made me very happy, and I totally recommend you watch it whenever you can.

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