Review: Raya and the Last Dragon
Disney pulls no punches with its action-packed, epic and visually spectacular new addicton Raya and the Last Dragon, which legitimately revolutionises Disney Princesses.
MARCH 9th, 2020
Director: Don Hall & Carlos López Estrada | Cert: PG | Runtime: 1h 57m
ver since 2010’s Tangled Disney have actively sought to branch out the revolutionary image of their Disney Princesses. With the evolved relationship between Anna and Elsa in Frozen, and the sea-faring princess Moana, Disney have pushed the boundaries of what a princess can be and who they can represent. Eleven years later from when Rapunzel let down her hair, audiences can now add warrior princess Raya to their list.
Raya and the Last Dragon has all the generic elements of a Disney movie – adventure, character evolution, heart and stunning visuals, yet it also stems into new areas, specifically action. Sweeping sword fights and epic battles, the movie feels genuinely action-packed and unashamedly so. Combining the creative genius of Don Hall (director of Big Hero 6) and Blindspotting’s Carlos López Estrada, the fight sequences hit harder and invoke the technical marvel of Asian action cinema.
Although the magnificent action is addictive to watch, it is the biggest selling point of Raya and the Last Dragon. Screenwriters Adele Lim and Qui Nguyen have crafted a pacey and propulsive screenplay combining the perfect concoction of narrative groundwork, emotional exploration and explosive action to fully highlight Raya’s journey as she fights to bring the kingdom of Kumandra back together again.
Speaking of the mythical land of Kumandra – a once-prosperous and sprawling realm where human and dragons lived as one – Disney have once again perfectly proved their visuals are unrivalled. Spilt into five factions – Tail, Talon, Spine, Fang and Heart – they become the backdrop of Raya’s epic battle to defeat the Druun (a swirling purple evil entity which left Kumandra divided and their dragons turned to stone) and seek out the Dragon Gem encasing the last vestiges of dragon magic to defeat the swirling evil and restore Kumandra’s people.
You’d be mistaken in thinking that with such detailed lore the plot could become overwhelmed – it isn’t. A lot happens in the opening act which sets the tone and timing of the story, which also introduces Awkwafina’s anxious water dragon Sisu – a near perfect casting that harkens back the days of Robin Williams’ Genie in Aladdin.
And whilst Awkwafina’s Sisu is a scene-stealer, the movie arguably belongs to Raya and Kelly Marie Tran who expertly brings our warrior princess to life. Mixing the determined, strong and ambitious Raya with the more emotional and complex elements of her personality simply through voice acting is a difficult ask – Tran achieves it with undeniable ease. Gemma Chan is threatening as Raya’s nemesis Namaari and Daniel Dae Kim adds some much-celebrated words of wisdom as Raya’s father Benja.
There is much to celebrate about Raya and the Last Dragon, though it doesn’t always feel refreshing. Of course with Disney certain elements are added as part of the acclaimed brand – a particular scene with water-magic is almost identical to a scene in Frozen II – though these “safe” options never dimmish the revolutionised feeling that Disney – if they choose to – can break conventions and obliterate boundaries to pursue a more rewarding experience.
Raya and the Last Dragon continues a string of successes for Disney Animation. Kumandra is truly breath-taking on screen. Vibrant and action-packed, emotive and strong, Raya especially feels legitimately revolutionary as a new concept for the Disney Princess archetype – one which is creating new boxes, instead of ticking the tried and tested ones.
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