Raya and the Last Dragon: A Disney Movie We Really Need – Disney+ Review

Disney brings us a story of a young woman trying to heal a broken world.

SUMMARY

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.

Sisu’s like a dragon mixed with a puppy mixed with Nora from Queens.

END SUMMARY

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.

Raya wields a chain blade, like in Brotherhood of the Wolf. It’s awesome.

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. 

Yes, this movie makes it clear that babies are dying.

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.

Sometimes you need to trust people who’ve broken it before.

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.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Netflix Review – The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance – The Scariest Thing I’ve Seen in Years

Netflix gives us a prequel to Jim Henson’s film The Dark Crystal and it captures the spirit, imagination, and pants-crapping horror of the original.

SUMMARY

The Planet Thra is a living entity which shares its life force with all of its creatures through the Crystal of Truth, a mass of concentrated energy. Of all of the lifeforms on Thra, the most favored are the Gelflings, a race of small humanoids who ruled over most of the planet through their seven kingdoms. A thousand years ago, two new races arrived on Thra, the Uru Mystics and the Bird-like Skeksis, cracking the crystal in the process. The Mystics secluded themselves and studied the mysteries of Thra while the Skeksis took control of the Crystal of Truth and started to drain the energy from it, causing it to become the Dark Crystal. As the custodians of the Crystal, the Skeksis rule over the Gelflings, who believe them to be benevolent and immortal. However, the Skeksis have discovered that they can make themselves nigh-indestructible by consuming the essence, the life and soul, of Gelflings. It’s up to three Gelflings – Rian, the Warrior (Taron Egerton), Brea, the Princess of Knowledge (Anna Taylor-Joy), and Deet, the underground seer (Nathalie Emmanuel) – to stop the Skekis’ plan to devour their world.

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Let’s assume this has already been airbrushed on a van.

END SUMMARY (Spoilers for the original film The Dark Crystal)

If you haven’t seen the original film The Dark Crystal, I honestly cannot recommend watching it first. As this is a prequel, I think that it might be better to watch this series and then watch the film to see how eventually the whole conflict resolves. If you have, however, seen the film, then you will know from the beginning that this story wasn’t going to be super happy.

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The part where our leads are basically the last of their kind bodes poorly for their parents.

The Dark Crystal was a pretty dark venture for a movie made by the guy who brought us The Muppets. Jim Henson was pretty honest from the beginning that he intended the film to be terrifying to children. He believed that it should be a throwback to the original Grimms’ Fairy Tales, because, much like Secret of Nimh director Don Bluth, he thought children benefited from being scared as long as they got a happy ending. This theory was fully tested in The Dark Crystal, which starts off with a showing of the horrifying Skeksis and only gets worse from there.

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As opposed to the mystics who are mostly just goofy.

The Skeksis are one of the best villains ever created for a children’s movie/TV Show, because they’re simultaneously horrifying and cartoonish. They’re essentially giant, clumsy vultures with absurd voices that often act so over-the-top in their indulgence of vice that they seem almost harmless, right until they reveal that they are doing things that would make Cobra Commander blush. In the movie, that includes torturing sentient creatures, eating said creatures, genetically creating monstrosities, and, oh yeah, drinking the life-force of Gelflings to stay young. In the film, it’s implied that they’ve killed and devoured most of the Gelflings for this purpose. This show is the beginning of that process and contains some of the most grim and genuinely horrifying implications of it, ranging from forcing Gelflings to betray their own kind for safety to making it clear that they’re not just eating the Gelflings, but sucking their total souls away and condemning them to eternal torment. Some of the scenes genuinely made me feel scared, despite the acts happening to puppets. Seriously, my stomach churned with the screams.

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They are also just dicks most of the time. Like… total dicks. 

The main narrative of the show is the traditional fantasy fare, with all of the characters going on a quest across the various realms of the world of Thra, with a number of side characters undergoing their own arcs. Much like with the film, a lot of the character arcs actually belong to the Skeksis and their internal politics, particularly the rise and fall of the Chamberlain skekSil (Simon Pegg) from his position as the favorite of the Emperor skekSo (Jason Isaacs). We also deal with the conflicts between the seven kingdoms of the Gelflings, particularly of the All-Maudra, the queen of the race (Helena Bonham-Carter). Basically, this is more a story about the world of Thra and its eventual fate than of any of the characters. Despite this, most of the characters are distinct and well-crafted, even though they’re mostly archetypes. 

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The one on the right with the spoon is even a Paladin.

The puppetry is what you would expect from the Jim Henson Company and the set pieces are wonderful. The sheer size of the world they created and all of the creatures that populate it is a worthy expansion from the source.

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Also puppet swordfights.

Overall, I think this was a great prequel to the film, even if, by implication, stuff’s gonna go bad from here. We haven’t quite gotten to the events of the movie, so they could still make more episodes of this, and hopefully will, but whether they do or not this was well made. I enjoyed it. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.