Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

Disney's latest animated film, RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON (2021), opened theatrically in "open" states on March 5, 2021.

Here in Southern California movie theaters were still closed on that date, but we had the option to pay a $30 "Premier Access" fee and watch the film on the Disney+ streaming service.

While we didn't take advantage of the Premier Access option for MULAN (2020) last year, preferring to wait a few months until it joined the "free" selections, we splurged and split the cost of RAYA with our daughter. It's not like we've bought more than a couple drive-in movie tickets in the past year, anyway!

I was glad we went ahead and enjoyed the movie in March, as RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON proved to be both visually stunning and entertaining.

In a rather complicated story set in the ancient land of Kumandra, dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity from the Druun monsters, who had a nasty habit of turning people into statues.

Centuries later, humans have divided themselves into five tribes, each named for a part of a dragon (Heart, Fang, Talon, Tail, and Spine). The tribes are suspicious of one another, which isn't the best situation when the Druun start causing trouble again.

Raya (Kelly Marie Tran, THE LAST JEDI), daughter of the head of the Heart tribe, attempts to locate the last dragon rumored to exist, Sisu (Awkwafina), which might enable them to reunite the tribes and banish the Druun. Along the way she's aided by several people she meets, including a "Con Baby" (Thalia Tran) managing to subsist living in the streets with an animal gang.

Raya's quest is complicated by Namaari (Gemma Chan, CRAZY RICH ASIANS) of the Fang tribe, who thwarts Raya's attempts to work cooperatively.

I enjoyed this film very much, though I'll mention at the outset that one of my only issues with the film was the almost overwhelming initial plot exposition. Since I was watching at home, I actually turned to the detailed plot description at IMDb a couple of times just to make sure I was "getting" it all! That was unusual for me and thankfully won't be an issue on a future rewatch.

That said, the film's kinetic style reminded me favorably of INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018), which deservedly won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film a couple of years ago. The fast cuts and pace hold the attention, and I also liked the way the film labeled the locations; that helpful gesture seemed to acknowledge the filmmakers knew they throw a lot of information at the audience early in the film.

The movie is visually gorgeous from the start all the way through the end credits; my only criticism there is I didn't care for Namaari's androgynous, almost "punk" style. On the other hand, I found Baby Noi both cute and hilarious, and most of the movie is absolutely beautiful.

The comedic actress Awkwafina has turned up in quite a bit of my viewing over the last couple of years, appearing in CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018), OCEAN'S EIGHT (2018), and JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL (2019).

Although it's not really a negative, for some reason I had the expectation that the "last dragon" would be stately and elegant. Instead, Awkwafina's Sisu is a fast-talking, humorous character not too dissimilar from Robin Williams' Genie from ALADDIN (1992).

And I also note that, like ALADDIN, I feel RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON could have worked extremely well as a musical.

The supporting voice cast of RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON also includes Sandra Oh, Daniel Dae Kim, Izaac Wang, Alan Tudyk, and Benedict Wong.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG. The dialogue sometimes includes pointlessly coarse language, as has been the case with other recent Disney animated films, but the issues in that regard are fairly minor. Positives are themes of family love, teamwork, and consideration for others.

The trailer does quite a good job of capturing all of the aspects, pro and con, which I've described above. Any negatives are outweighed, in my eyes, by an entertaining, uplifting story and impressive animation. I enjoyed this film quite well and will watch it again in the future.

RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON was directed by Don Hall, Carlos Lopez Estrada, and Paul Briggs. It was written by Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim.

The film runs 107 minutes, but that includes a lengthy end credits sequence, so in terms of story the film is several minutes shorter. The credits are lovely, and I recommend sticking with them to enjoy the art.

The end credits conclude with an unusual card acknowledging the "unprecedented" "making of this movie from over 400 individual homes" due to the pandemic.

RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON will be available to all Disney+ subscribers at no extra charge beginning on June 4, 2021.

As a postscript, Disney recently announced that the next Pixar animated film, LUCA (2021), will not be shown theatrically at all. Instead it will be available to Disney+ subscribers at no extra charge starting on June 18, 2021.


Blogger Hamlette (Rachel) said...

I go back and forth about wanting to see this. My kids were briefly interested, and I would have gone myself to preview it... but then they lost interest, so I kind of did too. At this point, I think I'll just wait for it to be free on D+, I guess.

3:41 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I might have waited, but our daughter was so disappointed not to see it in a theater that we went ahead now. Let me know what you think when you catch up with it!

Best wishes,

4:17 PM  

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