Disney Marathon: ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’


So…Disney has a new movie…

This review will contain spoilers.

For those just joining us, this is a movie marathon with a twist. Myself (cranky 40 year old blogger), my son Josh (stoic 10 year old Nintendo obsessive) and my daughter Amelia (drama llama 8 year old princess) are watching Disney movies in a random order and ranking them. We hope to see interesting differences in how we organise our lists.

Film: Raya and the Last Dragon

Released: 2021

Director: Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada

Cast: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Izaac Wany, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Sandra Oh, Alan Tudyk

Plot: Raya is the daughter of a regional chief in a world inspired by South-East Asian history and mythology. The five tribes of this world turn against each other over possession of a crystal containing the last of the dragon magic in the world, the only way which to protect against evil spirits. Raya seeks to find the last dragon to bring all people back together.

Review: There’s always a moment of pause when Disney leans heavily into a specific culture, as that’s been an uncomfortably mishandled topic for them. Given some of the criticism levelled at the recent remake of Mulan, jumping back into East Asian culture for their new animated film makes us nervous. Fortunately they seem to have wised up, as they have specifically set their story in a fictional world that draws upon Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia and the Philippines for inspiration. Without a specific, real world culture we have an amalgamation of influences and much harder to be criticised for.

Raya (Marie Tran) is introduced as a child warrior-in-training, working with her father Chief Benja of the Heart Tribe to protect the Dragon Orb. This magical artefact holds the last of the dragon magic needed to protect their people from evil purple blobs that turn people to stone. During an attempt to unite the tribes of Fang, Tail, Talon and Spine there is an attempt to steal the orb and it gets broken, each tribe taking a piece. Jumping forward six years, Raya is alone and travelling the realm looking for the missing last dragon to help retrieve the broken pieces of orb and reunite the tribes. Meanwhile, the evil blobs have continued to attack settlements and petrify people.

After meeting the dragon Sisu (Awkwafina), the pair set out to visit each of the tribes and regain the orbs. On their journey they are joined by the warrior Tong (Wong), merchant Boun (Wang), pint-sized thief Noi (Thalia Tran) and nemesis Namaari (Chan) from the different tribes in an effort to overcome the mounting obstacles that stand between them and their goals. Raya is hardened against the world, and has a straight-forward approach to problem solving that usually involve her whip sword. Conversely, Sisu is goofy and optimistic, often insisting that they need to approach their foes with kindness and trust in them to do right.

Following this unlikely band of companions sees Raya needing to learn from Sisu’s example, and that she can never make the tribes to unite through force if they’re to undo the damage perpetrated by the evil blobs. The message is simple, but there’s so many stops on the journey to the end with so many characters to be introduced to that it all feels more complicated than it needs to be. Moana featured a similar character arc with only the two main characters and a demented chicken on a raft. For the first act, this does largely mirror Moana in structure and style, but it does begin to feel like it’s own thing after the set-up and introduction of Sisu.

Whilst there might be too much put into the film for the characters to work through, establishing the different tribes and related characters, each one is unique and interesting. We have a desert kingdom, a river based merchant town, some nomadic cultures and whatnot, giving each scene of the movie a distinct look. It’s a shame that we get shuffled through them all so quickly we skim over the deeper lore that would make it more interesting and believable.

That all said, Disney has been on a hot streak with new animated films of late when you look at them in terms of technical quality. This is still the leading company in animation with amazing landscapes and character movement, high quality voice acting and a well polished product. The bumps lie in the narrative, zipping ahead when I want to stop and look about some more. Raya and Sisu make more fun travelling companions, though, and worth the journey. It’s always nice to see Disney break away from their standard fairy tale fair, meaning they don’t have to poke fun at their own cliches to excuse relying on them.

Coolest Easter Egg: A couple of people have spotted Dante from Coco hanging around the marketplace. We think it’s a good likeness.

Weirdest Trivia: Alan Tudyk provides the ‘voice’ of armdillo/pillbug/pug dog thing Tuk Tuk. Tudyk has become a Disney regular, voicing characters in Frozen, Frozen 2, Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Zootopia, Big Hero Six, Rogue One, Moana and Zootopia. Since we think Alan Tudyk represents a stamp of quality, we’re ok with this.

Rating: SEVEN out of TEN

THE RANKING

ME

It’s a fun adventure with a design not dissimilar to the world of Avatar, in that each culture draws upon a different region. It doesn’t push enough boundaries to score particularly highly for me, but with time I may warm up to it.

Click those titles if you want to see what we said about the other movies.

  1. Zootopia
  2. Robin Hood
  3. Aladdin
  4. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  5. The Lion King
  6. Wreck-It Ralph
  7. Alice in Wonderland
  8. Beauty and the Beast
  9. Moana
  10. Big Hero 6
  11. Lilo & Stitch
  12. The Great Mouse Detective
  13. The Little Mermaid
  14. Frozen
  15. Tangled
  16. The Sword in the Stone
  17. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  18. Enchanted
  19. Mulan
  20. Raya and the Last Dragon
  21. Cinderella
  22. Emperor’s New Groove
  23. Fantasia
  24. Ralph Breaks the Internet
  25. The Three Caballeros
  26. The Jungle Book
  27. Fun and Fancy Free
  28. Sleeping Beauty
  29. The Princess and the Frog
  30. Hercules
  31. The Rescuers
  32. Oliver & Company
  33. The Aristocats
  34. Saludos Amigos
  35. Home on the Range
  36. Bolt
  37. Dinosaur
  38. The Fox and the Hound
  39. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
  40. Pocahontas
  41. A Goofy Movie
  42. Fantasia 2000
  43. Treasure Planet
  44. The Wild
  45. Chicken Little

AMELIA

Amelia was very excited for this film, and loved Raya from the very first trailer (unsurprisingly she’s also a big fan of Korra). This character alone pushed the film to the top of her list.

  1. Raya and the Last Drago
  2. Frozen
  3. Moana
  4. Tangled
  5. The Little Mermaid
  6. The Rescuers
  7. Emperor’s New Groove
  8. Zootopia
  9. Lilo & Stitch
  10. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
  11. The Great Mouse Detective
  12. Home on the Range
  13. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  14. Mulan
  15. Hercules
  16. Alice in Wonderland
  17. Cinderella
  18. Wreck-It Ralph
  19. Bolt
  20. Pocahontas
  21. Enchanted
  22. Dinosaur
  23. The Aristocats
  24. The Princess and the Frog
  25. Robin Hood
  26. The Jungle Book
  27. Fantasia 2000
  28. The Lion King
  29. Beauty and the Beast
  30. The Three Caballeros
  31. The Fox and the Hound
  32. The Sword in the Stone
  33. Saludos Amigos
  34. Oliver & Company
  35. Aladdin
  36. Treasure Planet
  37. Big Hero 6
  38. Fun and Fancy Free
  39. Sleeping Beauty
  40. A Goofy Movie
  41. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  42. Chicken Little
  43. Fantasia

JOSHUA

I really liked this movie. And I’m glad that Disney made a new movie once in a while (yay,👍✌️😻😁🥳🥰).

  1. Zootopia
  2. Big Hero 6
  3. Raya and the Last Dragon
  4. Aladdin
  5. Emperor’s New Groove
  6. Treasure Planet
  7. Moana
  8. Ralph Breaks the Internet
  9. The Three Caballeros
  10. Saludos Amigos
  11. Wreck-It Ralph
  12. The Rescuers
  13. Frozen
  14. Mulan
  15. The Princess and the Frog
  16. The Lion King
  17. Lilo & Stitch
  18. The Jungle Book
  19. Robin Hood
  20. Bolt
  21. The Sword in the Stone
  22. Beauty and the Beast
  23. Oliver & Company
  24. Sleeping Beauty
  25. Tangled
  26. The Great Mouse Detective
  27. Cinderella
  28. The Little Mermaid
  29. Enchanted
  30. Home on the Range
  31. Pocahontas
  32. A Goofy Movie
  33. The Aristocats
  34. Fantasia
  35. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  36. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
  37. Fun and Fancy Free
  38. The Fox and the Hound
  39. Fantasia 2000
  40. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  41. Dinosaur
  42. Hercules
  43. Alice in Wonderland
  44. The Wild
  45. Chicken Little