Disney brings us a story of a young woman trying to heal a broken world.
Kumandra was a great country of men and dragons until 500 years ago, when it was suddenly besieged by the Druun, evil energy spirits that turn people and dragons to stone. A war ensued and the Druun turned almost everyone to stone. The dragon Sisu (Awkwafina), the last of the dragons, used her energy to forge a gem that turned the humans back to normal and banished the Druun, but the dragons stayed stone and Sisu disappeared. Six years ago, Kumandra had fallen into five nations that are constantly at odds. Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) is the daughter of Benja (Daniel Dae Kim), the chief of the Heart Land, the guardians of the dragon gem. When Benja attempted to unite the land, it backfired and the dragon gem was broken, resulting in the return of the Druun. Now, Raya seeks to find the long-dormant Sisu and banish the Druun again while avoiding her enemy, Namaari (Gemma Chan), daughter of Virana (Sandra Oh), the chief of the Fang Land. Fortunately, this is a Disney movie, so she has an animal companion named Tuk-tuk that is voiced by Alan Tudyk, and some friends she meets along the way, including Boun (Izaac Wang), a young boat captain, Tong (Benedict Wong), a warrior, and a bunch of other cute characters. Unfortunately, it turns out that “legendary dragons” might not be quite what she expected.
This was a heck of a film. While I don’t know that it’ll enter the top class of Disney movies, I think it’s at least up for consideration. It was good enough that, despite the fact that it’ll be on Disney+ for free in a few months, I don’t regret buying this movie. Watch it with a friend and the cost of the purchase is basically the same as if you went to the movie in a theater. I will say that this would be a movie that would be absolutely improved by watching it on the big screen, because it is beautiful and colorful and has some wonderful action sequences. Unfortunately, this ain’t the year for that. Maybe in 2022 they’ll put it back up for a limited run.
Part of what makes this film great is that it walks a very tough line. This is a dark film in a lot of ways. It takes place in a dystopia literally populated by omnicidal balls of energy and a bunch of countries that are basically at war all the time. Children, families, etc. are shown to be victims of the Druun, and trust me, they make sure you understand that the attacks are completely indiscriminate. The leaders of these countries are frequently shown to be willing to stab each other in the back, as are many of the people. In order to balance out this dark undertone, the film often has some extremely cute moments, as well as a wider assortment of comic relief sidekicks than many other Disney films. It also just has some better comedy routines than most other kids movies, made much better by the presence and delivery of Awkwafina. She plays Sisu as someone who lacks intelligence at times, but has great wisdom. It results in some hilarious cognitive dissonance.
The film’s moral is one of the most important ones that a Disney picture has attempted in a while and, surprisingly, it does a pretty great job of pulling it off without being overly preachy. Most of the film is just about how you need to give people your trust sometimes in order to move forward. It’s one of the hardest things to do, but sometimes you really just need to believe in the ability of other people to do the right thing when asked. Now, the movie is not written by idiots, part of the reason why some characters can do this is that they are capable of dealing with the consequences of having that trust betrayed. But sometimes you do need to believe in people even if it means putting yourself on the line. At the end of the movie, I was reminded of the MLK quote: “Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.” Truly a message that the world needs if we’re going to deal with the problems facing us in the future.
Overall, this was a really great movie. I recommend it. I would even say that, if you have kids or are a Disney fan, this one was worth the money.
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One thought on “Raya and the Last Dragon: A Disney Movie We Really Need – Disney+ Review”
I enjoyed it is well. Visually stunning and while following a predictable fantasy plot has a lot of great character work and world building to distinguish it.
Oddly, my interpretation of the empty crib was that it was Tong’s crib and the he had raised himself since his family was turned to stone. Your interpretation makes more sense.
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