‘Raya and The Last Dragon’ review



Although its plot is admittedly rather predictable, Disney’s latest animated movie “Raya and the Last Dragon” is a worthwhile watch, being reasonably entertaining as well as having a surprising amount of relevant societal commentary.

“Raya and the Last Dragon” was released on Disney+ Premier access for a premium fee of $30 and select theaters on March 5. Reviews have been positive overall, with an IMDB rating of 7.5/10 and a positive Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 85% as of March 18. The film is set in Kumandra, an ancient fantasy land inspired by several Southeast Asian countries. The land was previously prosperous, with humans and dragons living together, but the powerful dragons sacrificed themselves to drive off the Druun, a malevolent force that was turning people to stone. Kumandra’s inhabitants were revived, but discord emerged as people vied for control of the remnant of the dragon’s magic—the orb that was used in defeating the Druun. The inhabitants no longer were unified as Kumandra and divided into areas based on the location along the dragon shaped central river. They called these regions Heart, Spine, Claw, Fang, and Tail. The Druun ended up returning, which sets the plot for the protagonist Raya of the Heart region as she looks to banish the Druun for good and revive the people the Druun turned to stone by finding the mythical last dragon Sisu. 

The most obvious thing to commend “Raya and the Last Dragon” on is its visuals.

The style is realistic enough to be befitting of the more serious subjects involved in the movie and increase immersion, whilst also still being cartoonish enough to be visually distinct and emphasize how the movie is still meant to be able to be watched by children. The main criticism made against the animation is that Sisu’s design seems almost too cartoonish and colorful in comparison to the rest of things in the movie, with her bright cotton-candy blue coloration and particularly large eyes. But on the other hand, making Sisu more cartoony and colorful is an effective design direction, as it does help show how she is friendly and non threatening, as well as emphasizing how in the narrative dragons are special and magical in a way the rest of the land is not. Overall though, the character designs themselves are attractive, and the clothing styles are both distinct and practical looking. Scenery design is similarly well done, with different building styles, geography, and color schemes for each area Raya travels through, bringing character to the lands as well as more cleanly differentiating sections of the story. 

Now, the visuals may be one thing to praise the movie on, but arguably the biggest thing that makes “Raya and the Last Dragon” worth the watch is the nuance in the characters and overarching themes of the film. In a world where the Druun bring danger and each tribe looks out for its own, each character in “Raya and the Last Dragon” has a different degree of trust in others and is willing to do different things in order to survive. Although it would have been simple and even expected for the film to present its characters and their actions in a more morally black-and-white manner, being an animated movie from Disney, instead, “Raya and the Last Dragon” seems much more neutral, with none of its characters using excessive violence, wanting power for the sake of power, or otherwise making it simple for its viewers to pin the blame on any individual. For instance, there are actually several characters that act deceptively or otherwise morally ambiguously, but it is never shown to be out of pure greed or hate, but instead for simple survival and desire to protect their own communities. The nuanced portrayal of both individuals and the larger groups in the film help facilitate deeper thought and real-world comparison on the subjectiveness of humans’ behavior, as well as how environmental factors such as larger-scale disasters or simply societal influence can influence people. While the real world may not have been devastated by creatures like the Druun, Earth has been affected by Covid, so “Raya and the Last Dragon” released at a rather pertinent time, encouraging compassion and reevaluation of negative evaluations of other people, as well as being an entertaining film that allows viewers to simply escape the stressors of real world for a while if they wish.

Overall, “Raya and the Last Dragon” is at least worth watching once for its visual design and the surprising amount of thought and discussion on morality it can enable.