Raya and the Last Dragon review

Although predictable, this movie is worth a watch


To be completely honest, I forgot “Raya and the Last Dragon” even existed—though not through any fault of the movie itself. Rather, it’s the fault of the company behind it: It was released on the same day as the “WandaVision” finale, was barely given any advertising and, like “Mulan (2020),” was put behind the Disney+ Premier Access paywall for 30 dollars. So with absolutely zero expectations for how I expected the movie to turn out, I pulled it up on my computer, roped my sister into watching it with me and hoped for the best.

The movie follows the titular character, Raya (Kelly Marie Tran), who journeys throughout the splintered land of Kumandra to obtain all five shards of a magical gemstone and to track down the last surviving dragon, and Sisu (Awkwafina), who is said to have the ability to repair the gemstone. Their hope is that once the gemstone is reassembled, they can call on its power to obliterate the Druun, monsters that thrive on discord and conflict and have turned nearly everyone—including the dragons—into stone statues.

The movie was entertaining, if not predictable; my sister, who hadn’t been able to stay up late enough to finish it with me, was able to guess nearly the entirety of the remaining plot of the movie when I made her guess the morning after. However, it didn’t weaken the story it was trying to tell—if anything weakened the story, it was the excessive hammering in of the film’s lesson, which was to put more trust in others. It didn’t take me, nor my sister long to figure out that Raya was extremely paranoid and Sisu was extremely trusting, and it did start to get old after a while, especially when half the dialogue between the two leads was just different variations of  “You can’t trust anyone!” “Yes you can, you just need to bring them gifts to show you’re willing to put your trust in them!”

Given there were two leads and four supporting characters to focus on, it did make it a bit difficult to properly flesh them all out. They did serve their purpose, however, and I can confidently say the ending wouldn’t have been nearly as powerful with a smaller cast. Additionally, a smaller nitpick I had with the movie was the Druun, which, while they did their job as the generic big baddie, also looked like many other generic big baddies with its purple and black color scheme. It would’ve been more interesting if they’d taken on a color scheme that made them look more like fire, especially because Sisu likens them to a wildfire in comparison to the dragons, which, in both the movie and Chinese mythology, are closely associated with and can breathe water, rather than fire like Western dragons.

All negatives aside, the movie was well-paced, the fight scenes were gripping and well-choreographed, the soundtrack did an excellent job of setting the mood for every scene and the movie was beautifully animated and gorgeous to look at, especially with the distinctive aesthetic of each tribe, from Fang’s militaristic architecture inspired by the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia, to the desert wasteland of Tail, inspired by the Mekong River that runs through Southeast Asia. It was a solid film, and assuming there’s a way to get past Disney’s paywall, I’d highly recommend giving it a watch.

Rating: 3.5/5