R E V I E W – M O V I E
Disney has been stepping up their game when it comes to princesses, with Mulan being a noticeable example. However, Raya and the Last Dragon does make more than a few eyes turn. Disney’s latest animated movie revolves around a Southeast Asian protagonist, Raya, in her mission to collect pieces of a broken artifact containing dragon magic in the fictional land of Kumandra, to save it from the demonic D’ruu. While the lore and world building in Raya and the Last Dragon contain a surprising amount of depth for a kids’ movie, the rushed plot did much to diminish this quality and prevented the movie from reaching its true potential.
First, let’s wrap up the good things about the movie. The visuals are absolutely stunning, and the photorealistic environments were more than pleasing to the eye. What interested me deeply, however, was the accurate portrayal of South east Asian topography which shows that the visuals department really did their homework on this one. From the paddy fields reminiscent of Southern Vietnam to mountains and hills akin to those in Northern Thailand, the movie had it all. Southeast Asian culture is rich in history and myths — from the legendary Khmers to the tales of the Tai people — so it is indeed a welcoming sight to see Disney taking inspiration from them. The fights were something that genuinely impressed me: they were brutal and, were it not for the absence of gore, one would be surprised to see Raya and the Last Dragon being a kids’ movie. What caught my eye most, in fact, was the lore, which tells the tale of a land called Kumandra where parts of the land are named after the heart, fang, tail, spine, and talon of a dragon, with its inhabitants having their own distinct cultures and habitats. However, Raya and the Last Dragon tried to bite off more than it could chew, and the very magnitude of its world building led to the narrative being rushed and generic.
While Raya’s character was surprisingly fleshed out, the movie decided to focus on too many things at once. The narrative switches from dragons to the notion about trust and to the quest at hand so fast that the appealing aspects of the movie get overridden by shoddy writing and lack of steady progression. Key characters (the antagonist’s mother and an old lady in a market town, you’ll get to know them once you see the movie) often lose track of their progression, and either become wholly good characters or utterly bad ones except Raya and the antagonist. The whole affair about the last dragon was wonderfully portrayed in the beginning, but in almost the first 15 minutes of the movie, the mystery loses its charm and despite Sisu, the dragon, being a delightful character, bad writing and dialogue got in the way. This is indeed a pity as the lore and the concept of Raya as a lost princess of a lost kingdom had so much potential, but the writers were overwhelmed by the extent of what they themselves created and that resulted in a somewhat average direction that the film took.
However, at the end of the day, it’s still a kids’ movie. The visuals are amazing, the fight scenes are good too, as is the focus on South east Asian culture. But it does grieve me to see a film that could be both kid friendly and nuanced as Avatar, taking such an unremarkable route. Overall, Raya and the Last Dragon has an average plot with a lot of untouched potential and a protagonist that was not used well, but has stunning visuals and beautiful lore.
It may be enjoyable for kids, which, in the film’s defence, it’s supposed to be. But it could have been much more in context of the narrative, which may be frustrating for people who love a good, story-driven plot.
Ayaz is a self-proclaimed coffee connoisseur who also happens to dabble in songwriting from time to time. Hit him up at [email protected] if you can tolerate an annoying Bob Dylan fan-boy fawning over fancy words.