Film Review: Raya and the Last Dragon

Leah Bromagen, Staff Writer

     After its release in March, Disney’s latest animated film, Raya and the Last Dragon has intrigued audiences all over the world.  At first glance, the movie seems to be just another exciting adventure meant for younger viewers.  However, the underlying themes of grief, friendship, and most of all, trust, make this film appealing for audiences of all age groups, especially in these trying times.

     The film’s story revolves around a young warrior princess named Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) and her companion Sisu, the world’s last surviving dragon (voiced by Awkwafina).  Together, they, along with their ragtag band of allies, must find a way to protect the divided kingdom of Kumandra from evil spirits.

     The surprising thing about this film is the strangely mature undertones to the story, specifically the grief that seems to eat away at each of the characters.  In a way, that grief is almost a reflection of the collective loss the world is dealing with these days.  Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we all have dealt with some form of loss, and every emotion that goes along with it.  However, we’ve also learned that through friendship and trusting others we can begin to heal, much like Raya does in the movie.

     On a somewhat different note, the cultural accuracy of the film was really refreshing.  Much like they did for Moana, Disney employees went above and beyond to ensure that they respected the Asian cultures that laid the foundation for Raya and the Last Dragon.  Each tribe in Kumandra has a different lifestyle and culture that goes along with their territory, and each of those lifestyles is based on an actual Asian culture.  Everything from the hairstyles to the clothing, to the style of living was thought through.  In addition to this, Sisu’s abilities and design are all based upon dragon myths from Southeast Asia, where this movie supposedly takes place.  Instead of having wings or breathing fire like European myths dictate, Sisu had water-related abilities like the naga dragons from Asian mythology.  Even her physical characteristics bear resemblance to references of dragons in Thailand.

     Another thing that I found interesting was the gorgeous cinematography.  Disney Animation Studios is no stranger to creating beautiful images for their audience, from the sparkling castles in Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella to the vast pridelands in The Lion King.  They don’t disappoint in their latest project.  Every landscape in Kumandra, from the frigid tundra in Spine to the barren desert in Tail to the moist rainforest of Heart, is filled with color and life.  The smooth movements in the animation – especially during fight scenes – are quite impressive.

     Raya and the Last Dragon was able to appeal to both the child and the adult in every audience member and easily skyrocketed to one of my favorite films.