Quick admission, I went into this movie with very lowered expectations just for the sake of not wanting to be disappointed, and to be honest, I was blown away. There were a few voices of dissent, and there still are, concerning Raya and The Last Dragon, such as cultural appropriation and other such nonsense, but when one sits down to watch the movie they’ll be able to take note that a fictional land and a fictional story don’t often need to worry about appropriation as much since, to be honest, all of it fits and it does so in a manner that’s well done. The story is a bit cutesy at times and the threat isn’t exactly that well defined, but it still works on a level that a family will enjoy and it does offer up a few jokes here and there that adults might appreciate while kids might not understand them. But all in all, this was an impressive movie that shows how far animation technology has come and how quickly a story can unfold while lightening up on the exposition and going straight to the point. There’s no long, drawn-out pause between each leg of the quest, and the quiet times are still packed with enough comedy and action, as well as just enough of a storyline that people should be able to follow along without getting lost.
As one should know, dragons are quite different depending on the story and the region they come from, and this story is no different. But the gist of it is that at one point in the land known as Kumandra, the dragons were the benevolent benefactors of the land, at least until the Druun, evil spirits that turn people to stone, came and ravaged the land. The dragons, in an act of ultimate sacrifice, created an orb that could repel and imprison the Druun, turning to stone in the process. It was assumed that the sacrifice would unite the people of the land, but instead, they fought over the orb and created five separate tribes that continually warred with each other. Each clan took a name from the different parts of the land that was shaped like a dragon before it was split asunder. Raya, who comes from Heart, was one of those tasked with protecting the dragon gem which her clan had kept for 500 years. When she’s tricked by the daughter of Fang’s leader, Namaari, a fight breaks out between the clans, and the gem is broken, allowing the Druun to break free of their imprisonment and ravage the lands once again. Raya’s father and many others are turned to stone before he helps her to escape, granting her one of the five pieces of the broken orb as she and her animal friend, Tuk Tuk, who is essentially a fantastical armadillo with a furry, likable face, spend the next six years seeking the rest of the fragments of the orb, as they seek to bring the land back to what it once was.
They end up freeing Sisu, the last of the dragons, and as they gather more fragments of the orb Sisu gains the ability of her lost siblings, such as creating fog, shifting her shape, and other qualities that help Raya and the companions she gains along the way. Eventually, she has to retrieve the last fragment from the Fang tribe, the most powerful tribe in the land. When she attempts to follow Sisu’s advice and tries to get Namaari to listen, however, Namaari accidentally shoots Sisu, and she does the waters, the only defense against the Druun other than the gem fragments, dries up, and the Druun are unleashed on the Fang tribe. As Raya and her companions come together to try to save those they can, Namaari comes to realize her mistake and helps out, though near the end it’s obvious that the Druun are too strong, and even as Namaari reassembles the gem, the Druun take the companions, turning them to stone along with everyone else. As the gem begins to pulse it is revealed that Sisu has been saved, and as the rains begin to fall, all those turned to stone begin to revive. In the end, the clans realize the error of their ways and come together, understanding that they’re stronger together than apart. And as the dragons return one gets a feeling that this is the type of world that people would love to see, if it could happen.
The movie is one that is definitely one of the better Disney entries to come along in a while, but sadly there are a few critics that might make the effort to ensure that it will be forgettable. Oh well, it was a good movie and many families tend to agree, that’s good enough.