Movies

Disney’s First Southeast Asian Princess

Spoiler-Free Movie Review:

Raya and the Last Dragon

Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

Intro

I had high expectations for this movie, but while the animation was fabulous, the rest was generally unimpressive. It looked really cool, but I couldn’t help feeling disappointed.

Background

Raya and the Last Dragon is a Disney movie that was released in 2021. Raya became the first Southeast Asian Disney princess.

This movie stars Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Izaac Wang, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Sandra Oh, Thalia Tran, Lucille Soong, and Alan Tudyk.

Summary

In the land of Kumandra, Raya the warrior princess must find the last dragon to restore her family and kingdom to its former prosperity.

Pros

  • Relationship between Raya and Namaari
  • Relationship between Chief Benja and Raya sweet
  • Animal life interesting
  • Cool idea that each dragon has a unique power
  • Somewhat unique villain
  • Strong theme that came through clearly
  • Well-researched setting
  • Somewhat developed cultures
  • Cool weapon
  • Stunning animation

Cons

  • Very predictable at points
  • Dragon design a little too cute and fuzzy to be the majestic beings they were made out to be
  • Concept worn thin at places
  • Despite being unique, villain was underdeveloped
  • Sad moments just weren’t that sad
  • Unmemorable sound tracks
  • Hit you over the head with the theme all the time

Review

Relationships

Raya and Namaari had an interesting and complex relationship throughout the film. Many people complain that despite the obvious chemistry between them, Disney was purposely ambiguous about whether either or both characters were gay, and I definitely see that point. It has a very queerbaity-feel because it definitely seemed like there could be romantic tension there. Even the actor playing Raya, Kelly Marie Tran, said openly that she believed her character was gay. I am hoping they have a sequel where they will have more space to develop their relationship further so that it is clear.

The relationship between Chief Benja and Raya was sweet. He is a father to her, but also a mentor. He embodies trust and hope and is a real role model for Raya.

Villain

The Druun are both a unique villain and an underdeveloped one. It was a creative idea but not well fleshed out. They end up being more like a natural disaster, yet seem to stem somehow from the evil of humans. None of this is well explained in the movie, but basically the villain is like a plague that turns people to stone.

Creatures

Tuk Tuk is Raya’s pet, an odd mix between a pill bug and an armadillo. It grows quite large and is surprisingly mobile even in its larger form.

Weapon

Raya’s weapon is a kind of whip sword, shifting between a normal sword form and a separated form that is longer and acts like a whip. This was much more creative than going with a traditional medieval-style sword.

Theme

The theme is trust. More specifically, that you should trust people regardless of whether you know them or if they have betrayed you in the past. This movie thrusts its theme in your face from beginning to end. While that is good for very young children, older children and adults may find this patronizing.

I wouldn’t say that this is a necessarily good or realistic theme, but for a kids movie, whatever. Generally it is good to trust people, but it’s also good to be smart about who you trust.

Setting

According to IMDb, the cultures and land of Kumandra were inspired by the countries of Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia, the Phillipines, Indonesia, and Laos.

Kumandra is beautiful, consisting of various cultures known for certain traits but also defying those traits at times. A culture is not simple, and cannot be described in a couple sentences like Raya tried to in the beginning of the film. That becomes increasingly obvious as the film moves on.

The setting is beautiful, a mix of rivers, deserts, mountains, towns, and cities that were all beautifully animated.

Predictability

This was your formulaic Disney story. I won’t spoil it, but it had all the plot elements of a typical Disney movie. Yet it was much more dry, cliché, and lacking in emotion at some of the most critical moments of the film. However, it was nice that the movie had a strong female lead without having a man come in to save the day like in the earlier Disney films.

Soundtracks

None of the songs stuck out to me, unlike with the other Disney princess movies new and old. James Newton Howard composed the score, and while it added somewhat to the mood of several scenes, there were no takeaway anthems for this movie like there were for Tangled, Moana, and even Brave.

Animation

The animation of the backgrounds was phenomenal, particularly fog and water. The characters were not as well done but still pretty high quality animation.

Conclusion

If you like formulaic Disney, you may like this movie. But if you expect the movie to try anything new or exciting, you will be disappointed.

Rating System

If you are interested in how I rate movies, check out my rating system.

Links

  • Raya and the Last Dragon Trailer – quick note: It may be more fun to watch the movie without the trailer because the trailer actually spoils more than I was willing to in my article.

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