Another Disney animation masterpiece? Raya and the Last Dragon review


Elijah Pacis

Raya and the Last Dragon marks another addition to Disney’s Asian-inspired lineup of films alongside Mulan. Where Mulan represents China, Raya and the Last Dragon represents Southeast Asia. However, certain groups feel that Disney inadequately represented the individual cultures in Southeast Asia on top of the voice cast not primarily hailing from that region.

Elijah Pacis, Staff

Disney’s latest animated film, Raya and the Last Dragon, topped box office charts in the first few days after its release on March 5, 2021, beating Chaos Walking and Boogie both of which debuted on the same day. Similar to other recent Disney movie and show releases, viewers could watch Raya and the Last Dragon on Disney+.

Set in the fictional land of Kumandra, the story follows the titular character Raya and her quest to restore unity and peace in her world. Kumandra’s inhabitants suffer from the Druun, evil spirits that petrify people and steal their life force to multiply. Kumandra’s protectors, the dragons, utilized their magic to create the Dragon Crystal to repel the Druun, but turn to stone themselves in the process. The resulting world found an opportunity to enjoy peace, but instead five rival factions, Fang, Heart, Spine, Talon, and Tail, began campaigns to secure ownership over the Dragon Crystal. Raya, the daughter of the chief of Heart, begins her journey to fix the wrongs that broke her world, starting with finding Sisu the water dragon, the last surviving dragon. Little does she know that perhaps the only way to fix the world does not lie with Sisu, but within the tribespeople themselves.

The film’s animation highlights Disney’s ever-improving picture quality, with stunning visual effects, shadows, and textures that create a dynamic, colorful world that separates itself from the real world through its characters. The characters generally match the realism of other very recent Disney creations, most notably Moana, a decision that certainly grants the film enough realism and detail to entrance the eye, yet retain the cartoon-y, fun characters Disney portrays across its works. 

Similar to other Disney heroines, Raya traverses the road to breaking the stereotypical “Disney princess” mold through her strengths and inherent flaws. She tackles trust issues throughout her journey and initially matches the tribes’ hostile nature towards each other. She acts as the centerpiece of the film’s recurring themes relating to the risk and reward of trust and second chances. 

“It’s her flawed nature that makes Raya the most compelling, most sympathetic and most layered Disney princess…” said Glen Weldon, in his review of the film on NPR.

On the other hand, Raya proves herself an expert combatant, showcasing an ability to stand toe-to-toe with other high-profile fighters including Namaari, the daughter of the Chief of the Fang, who would later lead her tribe’s units into battle. Her strength comes with her distrusting, almost lone-wolf nature, making her independent and self-reliant to a fault. On Raya’s journey, her suspicious personality perfectly matches her environment and society, leading her to make decisions that result in successful self-preservation. On the other hand, when Sisu becomes a part of Raya’s party, one can observe that Sisu’s trusting approach to those around her led to major plot points, but does not necessarily always succeed. The film’s realistic approach and Raya’s complicated, careful development highlights her heroism with a dark mark that slowly lightens up throughout the film.

Raya and the Last Dragon takes one of Disney’s most realistic approaches to the Disney princess by creating one of its most complex heroines. Viewers cannot help but sympathize with Raya and her complicated past. As she grows throughout the story, one can see that her development occurs gradually with every character interaction. Major changes in her personality happen not as a result of sudden breakthroughs, but trial and error with Sisu. On her path to trusting those around her, she learns to accept that other people can help and befriend her with a genuine heart. A tale of betrayal, trust, and cooperation, Raya proposes a solution to distrust in the world: willing to take the steps to peace before your enemies.

Chant Grade: A