Raya and the Last Dragon
With another Disney+ Premier Access title, the first question to come to mind would probably be "is it worth it"? After all, 'Mulan' was sub-par, and it's truly surprising that Disney didn't drop their prices after so much outcry over such a cost. Here, in Canada, I'd be paying less to see this on an IMAX screen, in 3D. So with that, as a single person watching this, the answer is a straight up "no" - but honestly, no movie is worth such a cost to watch alone.
Before you get the wrong idea, however, I will say that a big chunk of that cost can be forgiven if you're sitting down to watch this with the family - I'd say three people, plus. That still doesn't mean that Disney can't stand to lower that price though. Remember, you still need to be a Disney Plus subscriber on top of that cost. My deep down personal opinion is that anyone can just wait it out for a few of months for easier access at a lower cost. However, that's also just speaking for myself. It all depends on what gets you hyped, really, and this IS the next big Disney title in the tradition of 'Tangled', 'Frozen', and 'Moana'; all very successful films for impressionable young women.
In this tale, we learn of a land called Kumandra which was once taken over by the Druun; a plague of evil spirits that turn people into stone, and multiply with every victim. A group of dragons who act as providers for Kumandra, use their remaining magic to create an orb that will ward off the Druun and revive the human population. In doing so, the dragons turn into stone, themselves. Kumandra then divides its borders in a power struggle for the orb, based on their placement along a dragon-shaped river. The orb stays in Heart, where our heroine, Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) and her Father, Benja (Daniel Dae Kim). The other tribes consist of Fang, Spine, Talon and Tail; all of whom believe they deserve the orb for their own reasons. Benja dreams of one day making Kumandra whole again, however, and invites the tribes to join theirs for a peace offering of a meal consisting of ingredients from each nation.
With this, Raya meets the likes of a girl from the Fang tribe named Namaari (Gemma Chan), and discovers that they have a great deal in common, especially when it comes to their fascination with dragons. Raya's trust goes too far, however, when she shows Namaari the dragon orb. Namaari backstabs Rya to obtain the orb, and eventually all tribes get involved in a struggle. The orb drops, shatters, and each tribe obtains a piece of it in order to keep the now unleashed Druun at bay with its magic. One of the many victims turned to stone from the Drrun ends up being Benja, and for the six following, Raya sets out on an off-screen journey to try to find the last dragon, Sissu (Awkwafina). Sure enough she finds her, but Sissu isn't quite what Raya expected - and may not be what one would expect if one hasn't seen the trailer. The two then embark on a journey to find the other orb fragments and try to bring her father (and everyone else effected by the Druun) back to life.
For yours truly, the best way to describe this movie is that it's a pleasant surprise. I mean, where to begin? Fist off, Sissu was one of those characters I thought might be problematic at first, as she's actually a comedy relief character who, at first, feels like a bit of a speedbump. There's a lot of really cool, beautifully animated, intense moments before her reveal, so in the beginning, she kind of takes you out of it. The crazy thing is, however, she slowly evolved into one of my favorite characters in the film. She's got jokes, and plays a bit like 'Aladdin's Genie, but she's got some depth too, and her backstory she gives Raya is actually pretty heart-felt. There's a lot here that speaks to a lot of social situations these days, especially when it comes to people being people, and seemingly wanting war for their own gain instead of living in peace. I know things aren't as black and white as that, but at the very least, this is something that might make you think.
On top of a great story here, there's also a great bunch of likable characters. Not to spoil anything much, but Raya meets someone from each tribe along her journey who want to help her, as they have all experienced loss too. The execution is pretty reminiscent of 'Wizard of Oz', except that as we carry on Raya's journey, we see the potential for peace and unity with each new character. She's joined by a young, witty boy named Boun (Izaac Wang), a thieving baby named Little Noi (Thalia Tran), a muscle-bound but friendly warrior named Tong (Benedict Wong) and Raya's mount (a sort of giant armadillo-pug), Tuk Tuk (Alan Tudyk). Every character here is pretty great in their own way, but my personal favorite is Little Noi. That combination of extremely cute and totally badass gets me almost every time, and she's easily one of the best at it.
I could go on and on about praising this movie, but I do have to wrap up the review at some point. Just to make it quick though, it's also full of gorgeous animation, settings that transport you into the film's magical world, a wonderful score, great action sequences, a total lack of singing (which I typically don't mind, but it is still a breath of fresh air to not have another potential 'Let It Go' on our hands), it gauges every emotion, and last but definitely not least - it's a near all-female cast and a total "girl power" movie but it does it ALL without getting into anything typical. No boy-slamming, no love interest at all, a boy and a man join Raya on her journey, there's nothing about what men thought women should be, and it all felt so natural and flowing. Raya is just a character who is joined by other characters to accomplish a mission that will save humanity, namely her father. I award it BIG points for pulling off such a thing. Of the new list of empowered Disney "princesses", I have been pretty steady on having 'Moana' as my front-runner... but this definitely took her off that throne. Color me thoroughly impressed!
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