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4 1/2 Stars

Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

In September of 2020, most people, including myself, were upset that the live action Mulan cost $29.99 on Disney Plus, only to be free to the masses the following December. Disney has done the same again with their newest film, Raya and the Last Dragon, which is, as of this writing, both on Disney Plus for $29.99 as well as in theaters. It will become free on the streaming service on June 4th.

While I was fortunate enough to see the film in theaters at a much more reasonable price of $7.79, I would say the film is such a treat that it is worth the thirty bucks. I will not say it is worth going to a theater if you do not feel safe: no movie should compromise your health. This is the best animated film I have seen since Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse.

An original story, the film takes place in the land of Kumandra. There are five tribes: Fang, Heart, Tail, Spine, and Talon (the map of the land resembles a dragon). The titular character Raya (Kelly Marie Tran, who was sadly thrown under the bus by haters of The Last Jedi) is on a quest to find the last dragon that can help fight the druun, dark shadowy clouds that turn people to statues. It isn’t long till she finds the titular dragon, Sisu, who is played by the always wonderfully comic Awkwafina.

The stellar cast work does not stop there, as we get voice work by actors such as Gemma Chan, Izaac Wang, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, and Sandra Oh.

That is as far as I will go with the plot, because I can honestly say that I don’t know if I would like the film as much as I did if I knew more going into it. The movie takes many elements from other great sources of fantasy, such as Avatar: The Last Airbender (the TV show), Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) and Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke (1997), among others, yet the originality of the film still blossoms fully.

The animation is nothing short of glorious. You get a sense that the filmmakers spent countless hours over every scene and every frame like it was drawn in an anime film.

The character of Raya is also another excellent entry into the library of Disney female characters (I am still not sure if I would consider her a “Disney Princess”). When looking back at the history of the company, female characters have indeed grown, becoming more complex and independent. Look at the very first female character, Snow White. She is far from someone who can stand on her own. Raya is surely someone little girls will look to in admiration.

There are other characters to discover, including Raya’s loyal sidekick Tuk Tuk, who seems to be the cross of an armadillo and a rollie pollie that Raya rides like a horse. There is also a segment involving bugs with exploding farts (which I can’t imagine looking any better on film), and a baby con artist. Still, each of the major and supporting characters are not just there as “one and done” fillers. They all have depth to them, each having something they lost. In contrast, I think of a preview I saw before the film for the new Boss Baby movie, which has characters existing just for the cheapest of laughs.

Parents, the movie is PG mainly for thematic elements, action, and mild violence. It is suitable for kids.

Upon looking at other reviews of the film, I am rather shocked to see that no one has mentioned the lessons that kids can learn from this film. Normally, movies aimed at kids may not always have a lesson and just exist to keep them occupied for the parents (such as Tom and Jerry, a movie that does not deserve to be in the same sentence, paragraph or review as this film). Those with lessons in them will normally be in the arena of following one’s dreams, no matter what.

Yet the lessons of Raya and the Last Dragon are more than plainly important for the audience (regardless of age): they are timely. I will not say what they are but will insist that they are as needed today as they ever were.

You can trust me on that.

Overall:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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