Over the years, Disney’s gotten used to the idea that, even though it’s created quite a catalog of them, not every female character it introduces in its animation fold needs to be a princess. Some women are capable of holding their own, like the title character in the impressive Moana.
Now we have yet another shining example of a woman that can accomplish great things, alongside an unlikely companion that makes quite the company for her. Raya and the Last Dragon is a spellbinding piece of Disney work, and what it lacks in theatrical audience, it more than makes up for with genuine charm that, hopefully, will last for years to come as people experience the film. It’s getting a home video release next month, so hopefully that will be just the start.
The heroine in question, Raya (Kelly Marie Tran at her finest), is in search of mysterious stones that could help turn the tide against a dangerous force that has wiped out a good portion of her people, Thanos-style. With the help of her loyal oversized armadillo Tuk Tuk (once again “voiced” by Alan Tudyk, with what little he says – the characterization is more than enough tho), she goes seeking the pieces of restore a mighty dragon named Sisu (Awkwafina), who might just be able to bring everyone back.
The camaraderie between Raya and Sisu is not only infectious, but keeps the film moving along nicely. Some might think that Awkwafina is a bit too smart-alecky, but she’s a terrific fit for Sisu, and watching her “evolve” over the course of the film is something special. Not to mention that Raya learns a thing or two as well.
Other characters join the fray, including a young kid named Boun who tries to use his suaveness with his food dishes, a one-eyed warrior (Benedict Wong) who’s a little softer than he lets on, and a baby that’s in for con games alongside a group of helpful critters. They all join the search to find the pieces of the stone before the ruthless Namaari (Gemma Chan) gets her hands on them first, at the command of her military-esque mother.
There’s a fascinating story with Raya, and it’s really well written, even though the pacing can be a slight bit off in the last half hour. All the same, it’s still excellent, with enough good laughs (particularly from Awkwafina) to keep a giddy smile on your face.
Not to mention the animation is gorgeous. Considering that most of this film’s production took place in COVID-19 territory, with everyone working at home, it looks outstanding. The 4K Blu-Ray release should really be something here, if you’ve got the right equipment to take advantage of it.
But what I was really surprised by was how well the film took its martial arts combat themes. Watching Namaari and Raya go at it in combat is something else, and even Sisu has something to lend here and there as well, though she generally has peaceful means that she tries to use to her and Raya’s benefit.
The voice acting is excellent for the most part, and even the smallest things – again, Tudyk – really do wonders here. The combat audibles alone are staggering, especially with a good stereo system.
Raya and the Last Dragon may not be the perfect Disney film – pacing is questionable in some spots – but overall, it’s a wondrous affair that’s amongst the best the studio’s had to offer. And with COVID and its weight, that’s really saying something. It’s got an ideal voice cast, excellent visual tone, and the kind of adventurous theme that truly says, “Hey, this isn’t your typical princess tale.” And we’re definitely here for it.
Raya and the Last Dragon is available on-demand and through premium access on Disney+. It reportedly has a home video release date of May 18th.