Raya and the Last Dragon Movie Review Rating: 3.5/5 Stars (Three and a half stars)
Star Cast: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Sandra Oh, Benedict Wong
Director: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada
What’s Good: Moana was the last time when I thought it’s a Disney-Pixar film, but it was just Disney & we all know how that film turned out to be!
What’s Bad: Another big-screen experience squeezing its way into the small-screen (for most of them).
Loo Break: Just a little over 100 minutes, don’t even ask for an intermission
Watch or Not?: The well-penned drama triumphs over the humour aspect of the story making this a feel-good ‘escapist’ Disney film.
The story catches your attention within the first couple of minutes, as it links the otherwise stereotyped fierce dragons (do you remember GOT? A show which ended as badly as this sentence.) with world peace. Taking the usual animated storytelling route, we learn about how dragons sacrificed themselves to save their territory Kumandra from the sinister monsters Druun. If you’ve to imagine Druun, think about Thanos’ purple destructive powers meeting those muddy sand-monsters from Tremors (1990).
The last dragon Sisu (voiced by Awkwafina), leave a gem which then divides the people of Kumandra against each other. People from six regions named after the dragon’s body parts (such as Fang, Talon and more). But the gem lies with Heart protected by Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) and her father, Chief Benja (voiced by Daniel Dae Kim). People from every region want that gem, but Benja and Raya only want to unite everyone to fight to bring back the dragons.
Raya and the Last Dragon Movie Review: Script Analysis
I know many of you are still here to listen to the ‘Avengers‘ analogy, y’all just hear me out. Thus films story has ‘gems’ which the ‘heroes’ have to bring together to destroy the ‘evil’ ultimately saving the world. Aren’t we all a bit familiar with this story? Haven’t we seen it in a multi-billion dollar movie or something? Maybe, Martin Scorsese could answer this. Now that’s I’ve addressed the elephant in the room, let’s go back to the dragons… I meant the film. A little clarification: The whole Avengers angle is just a fun take, and it doesn’t impact the experiences in any way.
Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim’s (writer of Crazy Rich Asians) screenplay effortlessly fit in the three-act structure to the story. It establishes the characters in the first 30 minutes, sending them on a mission in the next 30 minutes and giving them a proper adieu towards the end. This is like Disney talking inspiration from their long term partners Pixar, to add that one extra layer of emotional depth but still managing to keep the aura and essence alive.
One of the significant things, why the story works, is how it never takes itself too seriously. Despite all the preach of ‘trust’ and fighting the dragons happening around, there is an abundance of smart one-liners. How Awkwafina’s dragon addresses herself as the ‘one who didn’t chip in much in the group project but still is a part’. Small details like these help this film to stand out compared to Disney’s fantasy-land stories. While waiting for the credits to get over, I stumbled upon a funny ‘thank you note’ penned by the makers. A part of it says, “The making of this movie from over 400 individual homes was completely unprecedented.”
Raya and the Last Dragon Movie Review: Star Performance
Kelly Marie Tran’s Raya leads the show but to maintain the balance, the makers never let Raya face the issues alone. She has people to help her, and that’s what makes Raya for what she is. Awkwafina adds the required quirk to a very ‘animated’ character (pun definitely intended).
Gemma Chan is good as the opposing warrior princess Namaari but suffers from a very predictable approach to sketch the character. I expected more of Sandra Oh’s character (Namaari’s mother) because this wasn’t the best she could’ve contributed. Okay, I can’t stop talking about Avengers, but we’ve Doctor Strange’s sidekick Benedict Wong voicing for warrior giant Tong.
Special mention: TukTuk is yet another addition to Disney’s legacy of sketching adorable characters. It’s Raya’s pill bug and if you don’t know what that is, imagine a rollable snail meeting BB-8 (Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Disney approach at this skittish pet scores a few genuinely good laughs. TukTuk also means rickshaw in Thai, and as a pet, it helps Raya to transport from one place to another. Smart – eh or meh?
Raya and the Last Dragon Movie Review: Direction, Music
Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada could’ve easily tried to mimic what Pixar do, but they didn’t. Yes, the borderline of ‘learning something to improve yourself’ is the same, but Don and Carlos keep Disney’s magic alive. The message of trusting each other never comes across as at your face, which is a plus point keeping the direction in mind.
James Newton Howard’s background score matches the explosion of bright colours on-screen. Staying way within the preferred decibel line, the score never goes too loud. It maintains a great mix of retro dragon’s era kinda touch and the current day’s electronic fusion. It consistently complements the sequences adding a melodious purpose to the already fascinating stuff happening in the story.
Raya and the Last Dragon Movie Review: The Last Word
All said and done, following a similar formula of ‘keeping something for everything’, this is not an only kids’ film. It speaks about heartbreaks, it always about trust, it says about the messy world but adding an almost perfect amount of Disney’s magic to it. Don’t miss it!
Three and a half stars!
Raya and the Last Dragon Trailer
Raya and the Last Dragon releases on 5th March, 2021.
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