Raya and the Last Dragon is not only the first Disney animated movie that was animated in part at the homes of more than 400 Disney animators, it is also the first movie I have ever scene that credit FOUR directors. It is directed by Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada, as well as co-directed by John Ripa and Paul Briggs. The score was written by James Newton Howard, the composer of numerous great scores such as Treasure Planet, Dinosaur, The Hunger Games, Blood Diamond, and The Village.
Kumandra and the Last Unicorn
When heard about the initial concept of the fantasy action-adventure film, I was immediately giddy with excitement. Some of my favorite animated films fall in the large-world, action-adventure category (How to Train Your Dragon, Aladdin, Tangled). I had but one large, looming skepticism about this film and it had everything to do with Sisu the dragon. From watching the trailers, it because clear that she would be this vibrant, colorful, optimistic creature that would also serve as a source of comedic relief and would be voiced by Rapper/Actress Awkwafina. It didn’t seem to fit the vibe of the rest of the film, but I chose to belief the best in Disney and remain optimistic.
Having now seen Raya and the Last Dragon, I can now confirm that stylistic choices behind the design of Sisu the dragon just stick out like a sore thumb. In a film that takes place in a world that is very real, rugged and mysterious, Sisu looks like she belongs more in Trolls: World Tour. Disney might have gone a bit too far for a cute merchandising opportunity on this one. To make matters worse, this “majestic creature” is voiced by a highly comedic actress that wasn’t really able to find the heart of the emotional moments. Honestly, I just don’t know how many times I can listen to Awkwafina call the Princess “Mah Gurl Raya” (Hint:It was a lot of times). Kelly Marie Tran (ya know….Rose Tico) voiced Raya and I have nothing but praise for her performance. I am excited for her and hopeful that through Raya she has a chance to be seen in a more positive light than the disastrous character that is Rose Tico.
Game of Druuns
I absolutely love the world of Kumandra. The backstory (first 10-15 minutes of the film) is fantastic and the uniqueness of each of the five kingdoms is so interesting and fun. The supporting characters are all funny and add their own little spark to the group. In that way, it really feels like they tried to assemble their own version of Team Avatar from Avatar: the Last Airbender, but it didn’t have the time necessary. ATLA has 61 episodes (and I ranked them all!), that over 23 hours of content to explore the world and build the characters. This movie tried to do the same thing in under 2 hours. Because of that fact, we only get surface level glimpses of most of the characters, which limits their impact to comedic relief. In addition, the pacing of each section of the film felt rushed. I would have loved to explore more of each individual kingdom, but we just didn’t have the time. If this was a series and each season was the gathering of another gem piece, I think it could be amazing! Who knows, maybe this is the type of thing that translates really well into a sequel series (or prequel series that takes place during the 6 year fast forward past the film’s intro to when the rest of the events take place?) on Disney+.
I definitely want to give some recognition to animation quality. It is truly a beautiful film and the scenery looks about as realistic as I have ever seen in an animated movie. The action sequences are well-choreographed, smooth, and really exciting. There are quite a few fun fight or chase scenes that keep you on your toes as you journey to each kingdom of Kumandra.
I can’t help but feel as though the film didn’t meet my expectations. There was so much potential for Raya and the Last Dragon to be a truly epic masterpiece. Unfortunately, Disney settled for a somewhat formulaic film that trades wonder and originality for cuteness and sure-fire marketability. It’s a missed opportunity, that much is for sure. However, I that doesn’t take away from that fact that Raya and the Last Dragon is a fun and action packed adventure, that is also visual eye candy for animation lovers (with the exception of Sisu, who’s rainbow unicorn design style just doesn’t fit in) . You will likely enjoy it, but this movie had a chance to be one of the greats and unfortunately it will have settle for just being another fun Disney movie.
If you want to hear more on Raya check out this podcast episode I did on the movie!