Raya and the Last Dragon
Director: Don Hall & Carlos López Estrada
Date Created: 2021-03-05 00:00
I watched Raya and the Last Dragon with my siblings and we paid the $30 premium access fee for Disney Plus.
You see, when you put money into something, you automatically hope to value it more. You try to convince yourself that that money was worth it.
So I REALLY wanted to love this movie.
But within the first ten minutes of the movie I was thinking, dang, we should have just waited for this to come out for free on Disney Plus.
Avatar: The Last --- I mean Raya and the Last Dragon is about an unrealistically fearless warrior princess, named Raya, who ventures out to save the world from the life-sucking Druun with the help of Sisu, the last of the life-giving water dragons.
Let me try to organize my thoughts here because I have A LOT of them.
Multiple Deja Vu Moments
This movie felt like it just took bits and pieces from other popular quest stories and made a mediocre collage of it.
The storybook set-up is similar to Guava Island and Jingle Jangle where you have these hyper-cartoonist stick figures acting out the history of this fantasy world. Off the bat, it felt like, ok so we’re going with the colorful tribal-looking storybook route. Ok. Classic choice.
Next thought, the roly-poly sidekick creature. It immediately made me think of the cute bunny sidekick in Over the Moon. Mulan and Mushu. Avatar and Appa. Just the overuse of cute, silly animal sidekicks as comedic relief. Nothing wrong with that as well. It’s a formula that works but still…
The elements of this story felt too close to concepts that have already been done and were done even better soooo….
The five different nations in Raya and the Last Dragon represent five different parts of the dragon. Tell me that that didn’t remind you of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
And sharp rocks??
Not a perfect match… but you get the point. The characteristically different regions were similar to the same setup that Avatar has.
The scene where all the nations came together for a meeting at the beginning, donning their unique tribal clothing—
— reminded me of the battle scene in Black Panther where all the African nations came together.
I found myself singing Moana at some points because she was looking across the expanse like, “See the line where the sky meets the sea? It CALLS me!”
The whole movie was a hodgepodge of things that worked in the past — minus the music. Although, I feel like they didn’t do a musical because it would have sounded too close to Moana. Those were the vibes I was getting.
Let’s mix in a non-white cultural lead, with bad*ss warrior moves, a cute pet comedic relief, a storybook outline, bright animation colors, a fantasy utopia that is being compromised, a team of misfits that save the day, a quest that spans several uniquely characterized nations, and a message that seems heavy and impactful.
It felt like a formula to make money rather than a means to share a unique creation or story or voice. Just a money-grabber.
Despite the overall lack of originality, there were still some elements of creativity that I appreciated.
I liked the cool, wavy, detachable sword, shooting hook thing. That was cool.
I loved the original character names too. General Attitaya and Namaari and Boun – really unique, beautiful names.
And the fact that the dragons were opposite in nature to how dragons are usually perceived was interesting. It was a different sort of twist.
The dragons, instead of spreading fire, spread water. Instead of bringing chaos, they brought peace. They had unique powers and strengths and were made of water I guess. So that was new.
It took a concept that people are familiar with one way and twisted it a bit which I think is the most original aspect of the whole film.
A Juvenile Script
The script felt very elementary. Like they were spelling it out for us exactly what was going on and who each person was.
“You’re probably wondering, who is this lone rider?”
No, I wasn’t. There’s still an hour and a half left of the movie where I expect to find out through context clues.
The script felt like an animated children’s show. Very calculated and unnatural.
It felt like Doc McStuffins.
The trash talk between Raya and Namaari was trash.
“Hello, princess undercut.”
The humor fell flat for me.
The only times I laughed were when my siblings and I made fun of the ridiculous nature of the movie. That was the true humor.
This movie is strongly oriented toward 10-year-olds and younger. It didn’t have the hidden gem of adult appeal.
A lot of the best children’s animated movies that I know get even better with age. Loved Shrek as a kid, and appreciate it even more as an adult.
This film doesn’t have that.
***SPOILERS AHEAD ***
I did not like Raya as a character at all.
She was cocky and a know-it-all. It felt like she was always trying to prove that she was better than everyone else and unwilling to recognize her own faults.
And the thing is — she starts off being this no-nonsense warrior from out the womb. She defeats her father in combat at the age of 9? (maybe) showing that she’s “worthy” of protecting the stone.
We don’t see her journey. She’s just an amazing warrior. Period.
It just feels a bit unrealistic and I don’t feel connected to her because whatever you do, you need practice, challenges, setbacks, and failures — Those are the things that make victory worth it in the first place.
Her character growth was very weak.
And another thing, not once did she acknowledge the huge role she played in the major downfall of Kumandra. She was the reason that everyone turned to stone.
She should have felt a heavy burden of guilt the entire movie.
Tell me WHYYYYYY —-
— would you take someone that you JUST MET that SAME day to the secret place of your most treasured secret and most dangerous weapon?
There are people I’ve known my WHOLE life who don’t even know the password to my phone let alone my biggest treasures and deepest secrets.
And then in the city of thievery, looting, conning, and manipulation, you fall for the lost baby trick. Seriously?!?!
How can Raya be so dense? How????
So one, she is the reason why the dragon stone was found and destroyed. Two, she was the reason why the dragon pieces that she did recover were stolen. Three, she was the reason why Sisu was killed.
I wish the story creators would have addressed the topic of guilt instead. That would have been a heavier, more meaningful message.
How to say sorry.
How to reconcile poor decisions of the past.
How to forgive yourself and others.
It’s the lack of self-awareness that gets me. No one within the story was able to expose the many errors of Raya’s ways.
The only character that I really liked was the little boat boy, Boun. He was adorable, suave, and the most lovable honestly.
Sisu was my next favorite because Awkwafina is just a naturally goofy character so she fit the role well. Sisu was also just stunning to look at. Her colors were *chefs kiss* magnificent.
The big guy, Tong, his language felt like the scriptwriters were trying way too hard to make him seem Viking-ish or something. It just felt really cringe. I was physically wincing.
Con baby and the three monkeys. Sigh. I watch it and I KNOW it’s supposed to be cute and funny and silly… and it’s kinda cute — but it’s also kinda cringey as well.
But overall, I did like the little team of misfits that they brought together to collect the dragon pieces. It was — alright, I guess.
Where is the rest of her “Heart village”? Shouldn’t they have an army protecting the stone?
Also, where did the Druun come from? If the world was in perfect harmony, what broke in order to allow the Druun to destroy that harmony?
What I really don’t understand is how at the end of the story, the dragon stone, having absolutely NO live dragon magic to sustain it, resurrected from the dead.
It’s basic physics that energy doesn’t magically appear out of thin air. Some sort of force must initiate movement or transfer energy or… something.
Physics is not my strong suit – but you know what I’m trying to get at here.
There are basic laws that govern the universe. So, by what power did the dragon stone resurrect itself? The power of trust? Who/What determined that what they did was out of pure trust and not just fear?
Idk maybe I’m overthinking it, but the logic just didn’t click for me. That’s the beginning and end of it.
Also, if people are turned to stone for 6 years, when they return to flesh and blood, are they six years younger than the people who’ve been alive the whole time? Like Avengers: Endgame?
Also, is the dad’s wound magically healed once he comes back from stone? Does that mean that turning people who are badly wounded into stone can actually preserve their lives?
So many questions, so little answers.
The Overall Message of Trust
This movie was trying to preach the importance of trusting people but that is stupid. Plain and simple.
Not everyone is worthy of your trust. Especially in a broken world.
We don’t live in Kumandra (which sounds like a yoga pose but whatever).
We don’t live in this perfect fantasy paradise. We live in a world of danger and deceit and corruption. That’s the reality.
Promoting this idea that trusting people leads to perfect harmony is just completely unrealistic and a very dumb idea in light of reality.
People WILL take advantage of you. This is why one of the first things kids are taught is to not talk to strangers.
The movie says explicitly that trusting people is the key to harmony, yet the actions within the movie preach a different message.
The father trusted Raya and what happened? She led the enemy straight to their most treasured and secret possession.
Raya trusted Namaari and what happened? The only glimmer of hope was smashed to pieces and the Druun turned a great number of people to stone for 6 years.
Sisu trusted the stone guardian and what happened? She was pushed into a Druun garden and almost left to turn to stone.
The few times that trust actually turned out in their favor were when the characters literally had no other choice.
So what this movie is really preaching is that you should trust people only when it’s a life-or-death situation. Only when you’ve exhausted all other sensible options.
Next time I’m in a life or death situation, which happens oh so often, I’ll remember that.
It bothers me when there’s never really any true fear that the protagonist may not make it.
The tension of the moment is lost because you KNOW that in every single battle, the protagonist is not only going to conquer it, but they’re going to leave the battle without a scratch.
That was this movie.
No finger-biting moments.
No moments of “oh no, this obstacle is too big. She might not make it.”
Nothing like that.
So it really took out the exciting, on-edge feeling that really gets you emotionally invested in a story.
I honestly feel like I would have had so much more respect for the movie if they all turned to stone and the people stayed that way.
No spontaneous resurrection of the dragon stone.
Then it could preach a much more realistic message of don’t just go around trusting everybody.
A new nation of people could come and be fascinated with the lost people of Kumandra and the mysterious tale behind the dragon statues everywhere. They could read Raya’s journal, containing all of her voiceovers, and then Raya’s stone statue can be in the center of town as a reminder not to trust people haphazardly.
Then the movie creators would have a lot of foundational material for a second movie. Find a reasonable reason for Raya and the dragons to be resurrected but some other stones have an expiry date of 5 years so instead of coming back to life, they wither away to dust, aka Raya’s father. She has to face the fact that her actions have consequences. Sometimes permanent ones.
It would just be a more impactful story honestly. It would be a wild twist and it would probably make the target audience of 5-year-olds very confused and sad, but it would be quality entertainment.
Always appreciate the representation of groups that are not really seen in mainstream media. This movie represented Southeast Asians. It’s important for kids to see their culture and people who look like them on screen and just feel seen. Feel not so alienated from society.
But still — just because you have the bolster of diverse representation doesn’t mean you should slack on having meaningful, creative content…
Overall, this movie had a sprinkle of beautiful and unique elements but ultimately it didn’t have its own signature. I referenced about 10 different movies in this one review. That’s a record for me. That’s how unoriginal this movie felt. Too much piggybacking.
It has all of the elements of great animation, but it did not communicate anything of distinct value. It felt like the creators made this movie primarily with the intent of making money, not to tell a uniquely interesting story with inherent value.
What would you change about Raya and the Last Dragon? Let me know in the comments below!
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Peace, love, and lots of popcorn,