Going by their recent slate, Disney have embraced the #TimesUp movement with a whole load of female led films and Raya and the Last Dragon is the latest in that tradition. Set in the mythical country of Kumandra the film sets out in a prologue how mankind lived side by side with dragons who in turn fought the dreaded Droon, a deathly purple mist that billows through crowds of people turning them instantly to stone – a bit like being cornered at a wedding reception by Diane Abbott. With the dragons unable to fend off the dreaded Droon, the country plunges into civil war and splits into five kingdoms named after the parts of old dragons – Talon, Fang, Tail, Spine & Amanda Holden.
500 years after the death of the dragons we meet Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) a young girl to a single parent father who protect the last remaining dragon gem that keeps the Droon at bay. Her father, in an effort to unite the five kingdoms, invites their leaders to a grand meeting where Raya befriends Namaari (Gemma Chan) a girl with an undercut haircut and an underhand manner that’s soon revealed when she quickly tries to steal the gem. It’s in the following uproar that the gem breaks into pieces and the Droon arises turning Raya’s father to stone. Now orphaned the film picks up six years later with Raya and her pet Tuk-Tuk roaming the still divided Kumadra in an effort to locate Namaari and the pieces of the gem and finally banish the Droon and hopefully re-unite the country.
With two directors and two co-directors Raya and the Last Dragon might be expected to be a mass of differing styles but actually this is one of Disney’s best original animated films of recent years. With eight story writers and the screenplay itself written by Adele Lim (Crazy Rich Asians) and Qui Nguyen there’s much to like here from several exciting set pieces as well as a frenemy feeling between Raya and Namaari and it is easy to see how some may read the most subtle of a burgeoning gay relationship. With decades of Disney experience to draw on the writers haves adhered to a familiar template (although, for a Disney film, Raya and the Last Dragon is unusually song free) with the script having a number of laugh out loud lines often from Sisi the Awkwafina voiced comedy sidekick, cute animals and Raya’s endearing entourage the best of which is a ninja baby with an acrobatic monkey trio who are deserving of their own short film.
There has been a faux outcry about the national origins of some of the actors used and a generic mashing up of South East culture but it shouldn’t take away from what is a beautifully realised piece of family friendly animation. If there’s any complaint it’s that the pandemic has kept this from being seen first on a big screen but nonetheless this is Disney maintaining their run of great animated feature films
Here’s the Raya and the Last Dragon trailer……
Raya and the Last Dragon will be released in cinemas where available and on Disney+ with Premier Access from March 5th