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Raya and the Last Dragon

*****
2021

‘…top drawer Disney, it’s a thoughtful, nimble riposte to the brainless slug-fests that most family films descend into, and it’s a self-aware, open-minded slice of world-building that should open the doors for a new franchise…’

There have to be a number of reasons to dust off that rarely used blunderbuss of a five star rating. A film has to hit the heights, score a rave in almost every area, AND have that secret, magical ingredient that makes it an absolute must see picture. Despite gestating from back in pre-virus 2018 (under the title Dragon Empire) this elaborate epic fantasy from Disney is a likely shoo-in for the most relevant film on 2021, given that there’s an of-the-moment moral message that’s sharpened to a point by the travails that the world has been through in the last few years. Raya and the Last Dragon is smart, woke and energetic; it’s also funny, likable and a welcome blast of spirited old-school Disney at its best. Raya may make a staggered debut in home entertainment, but any cinema that chooses to screen this will be a happy destination for a family outing, all summer long.

A virus-like scourge known as the Druun has decimated the land of Kumandara, and the only protection comes from the magic of the mythic dragons which have sacrificed themselves to save the world. This magic is now contained within one magic gem, but the collective trauma involved has polarised the population into warring tribes, who lie, backstab and plot against each other at every opportunity. Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) and her father have been entrusted with the safe-keeping of the precious jewel, but a mistaken act of trust leaves the crystal  shattered and the pieces hoarded by the different polarised factions, named after parts of the dragon, Fang, Heart, Spine, Talon and Tail. From this start, Raya sets out on a quest to find the missing pieces and re-unite her kingdom, and finds an unexpected ally in Sisu, the last dragon, voiced by Awkwafina.

Yup, that’s right, the rasping tones of Awkwafina are very much in evidence in bringing Sisu to life, and it’s a casting coup that absolutely makes the film. Celebrity voice-work has been a trend since Robin Williams’ break-out turn as the genie in Aladdin, but while Sisu isn’t quite as dynamic a pop-culture name-dropper, Awkwafina’s stellar performance raises Raya’s narrative to top gear. Don Hall (director of Big Hero 6) and Carlos Lopez Estrada pull together an epic journey with all the bells and whistles that you’d expect from big Disney products, but there’s a radical, fresh moral dimension about taking personal responsibility. ‘The world is broken. We have to lie,’ complains Raya. ‘Maybe that’s why it’s broken,’ admonishes Sisu, and the whole narrative seems to have been constructed to combat the narrative of division and despair that we’ve experienced from 2016 onwards.

An absolute tonic for young and old alike, Raya and the Last Dragon is deserving of a full range of accolades. It’s top drawer Disney, it’s a thoughtful, nimble riposte to the brainless slug-fests that most family films descend into, and it’s a self-aware, open-minded slice of world-building that should open the doors for a new franchise. We’ve been waiting for a truly game-changing film for some time, and this is it; even if it was conceived before the current crisis, Raya and the Last Dragon is a warm, prescient family entertainment, and just what we need right now.

Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon Releases on 4K Ultra HD™, Blu-ray™ and DVD Today, May 18th 2021. Thanks to Disney for advanced access to this title.

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  1. I’m happy you’re happy, but I personally wasn’t a fan of Raya. Apart from the computer animation looking brilliant on the big screen. I much prefer Sony & Netflix’s The Mitchells vs. the Machines in terms of modern game-changing animation that will appeal to all generations.

  2. I’ve personally never been one to say, “That’s a kids movie, pass.” The minute I say that is the minute I’ve lost my inner child and have reached a sad state of affairs. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I’ll be checking this out when it’s available.

  3. I’ve always been amused (re: disappointed) with the fact that Disney is often taken to task for being pretty shitty as a corporate entity, but loves to invest in these fairly liberal stories that push environmentalism and equity. The next version of a “trump”-like entity will also have this ability. Conservative status quo with lots of lip service for the progressives.

    I’m also guilty of having avoided every single one of these animation extravaganzas – I suppose it’s time i broke some of these walls for my aging self as well.

    • I’d say this way a good place to start. After the shambolic, sledge-hammer, anti-Trump Wonder Woman 1984 made it look hard, this makes it easy to tell a family-orientated story but also have a strong and now political message. No great intel on the corporate POV, but even if that was extremely iffy, putting out product like this can only do good. Great movie for kids and adults.

      • I accept that it’s the twenty-first century, but alas I’m not eight years old anymore. I don’t watch kids movies if I can avoid them. I figure I’m note the target demographic so it wouldn’t be fair to review them anyway.

        • This will be one of the most widely seen movies by adults this year. And because the politics of the film will influence and inspire generations to come, it’s essential viewing for any reviewer interested in the interaction between cinema and the world right now.

          Did someone not get a plastic model of Sisu with their happy meal? Aw….

          • I’m aware of the kidult phenomenon. But sometimes you have to look at where the world is going in and head in the other direction. I’m glad there are great kid movies being made for kids, but I don’t want to see them.

            I have also not been in a McDonald’s in twenty years. Not even for a coffee, much less a happy meal. Is that what Disney is buying reviewers with now? Back in the day we held out for a dinner at someplace a little more upscale.

            • Not holding out for dinner for anyone, don’t get paid in meals! This is such a great movie, that’s why it’s a great review! I guess they’ll just have to live with the pain of you not wanting to see the dragon. Sad for Sisu!

              • I was curious enough to google Awkwafina and watch a video called “My Vag.” You owe me a Happy Meal now bunny. A lot of happy meals.

                  • Tweak the lyrics a bit and I think it could work.

                    My blog is erudite and insightful
                    Your blog is illiterate and frightful

                    Alex Good is a genius
                    Film-Authority is heinous

                    • Oh, right, we’re on the level of name-calling again. Me and Sisu are going to have our work cut out to get any kind of useful contribution out of you. Maybe we’ll get you a Raya colouring book so you get get all this pent-up anger out of your system. It must be tough reviewing racist old 30’s Charlie Chan movies while real critics review real blockbusters with huge meaning for the public. You have my sympathy.

                    • Bustin’ rhymes all over you this morning. Oh well, not surprised you didn’t have a comeback for that one. There are those who can rap and those who can’t. Off to the bins!

                    • I think ‘you have my sympathy’ says it all. Bye bye from me and my pal Sisu!

                    • My blog is takin’ out the trash
                      Your blog is pimpin’ Disney flicks for cash

                      My blog has analysis that’s bang on
                      Your blog is talkin’ ’bout some dragon

                      My blog is eclectic, wise, and funny
                      Your blog is written by a bunny

                    • Your blog is ‘takin out the trash’…stop the count! You’ve nailed it! You are the bin man of film….hahahah…now, clear off, sunshine, and let the world read about and enjoy this excellent film that you’re too contorted in your own rubbishness to watch.

                    • *sigh* OK, you don’t know how to rhyme, much less rap. Just pick up a mic and do some beatboxing while I lay it down then.

                    • You couldn’t lay down a set of scrabble letters, Bunty McFunty; you’re idea of music probably died out with your interest in films, circa 1936. No need for me to respond to your doggerel, such childish rhymes are beneath me. besides, I’m like Shakespeare, I’m a pioneer, and my rhymes are something that the people want to hear.

                      Mic drop and out!

                  • She’s a real person, who seems a bit like a cartoon version of herself. Every day’s a school day…

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