“Raya and the Last Dragon” is directed by Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada, alongside credited co-directors Paul Briggs and John Ripa. This film stars Kelly Marie Tran (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Adam Ruins Everything), Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians, The Farewell), Izaac Wang (Good Boys, Think Like a Dog), Gemma Chan (Transformers: The Last Knight, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), Daniel Dae Kim (Insurgent, Lost), Benedict Wong (Doctor Strange, Annihilation), Sandra Oh (Over the Moon, Grey’s Anatomy), Thalia Tran (Council of Dads, Little), Lucille Soong (Fresh Off the Boat, Desperate Housewives), and Alan Tudyk (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Harley Quinn). This film takes place in the fantasy world of Kumandra, which has been divided into five tribes with alternating values. All of these tribes and their respective followers are after an orb that protects people from the Druun, a virus-like spirit that turns everyone in its path to stone. When the orb shatters into pieces, Raya, a warrior princess from Heart, goes on a quest to find Sisu, the last living dragon, who supposedly has a knowledge about the orb.
If you are new to Scene Before, welcome! One thing you may discover about me is that I have a love/hate relationship with Disney. They are a brand that I personally cannot stand because they often hog all the attention in multiple markets and almost resemble a collective monopoly. At the same time, they own Lucasfilm, they own Marvel, and they own Pixar, three of my favorite studios working today. Therefore, when it comes to entertaining people, they are doing something right. This film is from Walt Disney Animation Studios, or Disney proper if you want to put it in other terms. In recent years, they have made some of my favorite animated films including “Zootopia” and “Wreck-it Ralph,” but they also made a couple films that irked me to no end like “Frozen” and “Moana.” Although one thing that has been consistent from one film to the next is that the animation style in each one looks beautiful. Everything looks detailed and despite being from a studio that has been around for years, it feels like they have entered a new era with some of their recent projects. At the same time though, this should not be a surprise given how much technology has advanced by 2021. If something doesn’t look halfway decent, maybe I’ll let that slide in 1998 or 2002. But in 2021, good animation is a requirement. Thankfully, and this leads me to my initial positive of “Raya and the Last Dragon,” the level of detail and vibrancy in this film is eye-popping. “Raya and the Last Dragon” is a fascinating film that takes you through several environments that should vary in tone, but for some reason, they mesh together to form an action-packed adventure for everyone to enjoy. And I mean, EVERYONE.
This is how family movies should be done! Great characters, witty humor, balls to the wall pacing, and a fascinating story with exciting lore behind it! Upon reflection, this movie had the pacing of two 2008 animations. “Bolt,” which was also a Walt Disney Animation Studios film, and like “Raya,” there are a few action scenes that not only takes things up a notch with some quick pace to accompany it. The other animation is “Kung Fu Panda,” and I say that because the film bases itself around martial arts, Asian culture, and has built an exciting, perhaps myth-like world that has secrets that may await exploration. After all, “Kung Fu Panda” had two sequels. I do not know if “Raya and the Last Dragon” will end up having as big of a following as say “Big Hero 6,” but if anyone at Disney reads this, just know that if a “Raya and the Last Dragon” sequel is greenlit, I will happily flock to the theater to see it.
Let’s talk about Raya. She is a warrior who spends years trying to find the last dragon after an unfortunate event left many people dead. Her quest in general is quite the journey to watch. We see early on in the film that she travels alongside a merchandisable mix of an armadillo and pill bug, Tuk Tuk. While Tuk Tuk is not my standout character of the movie, not saying he sucks, but still… I like the work that was put into the character, specifically the voice because they did not just go out into the animal kingdom and get a bunch of different recordings for this character, they just got Alan Tudyk to make a bunch of noises and have the results be satisfying! And I assure you, I sometimes forget how much I truly appreciate Alan Tudyk as a performer. He has a style for voicework that is almost unmatched between King Candy in “Wreck-It Ralph,” K-2SO in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” and The Joker in the animated “Harley Quinn” series! The dude is a true mastermind! Therefore it does not surprise me that he has a role that is simply just making animal sounds. He’s that effective of a performer! I have a friend, I won’t say his or her name, who will practically watch anything with Alan Tudyk in it. I can see why.
One of the big mixes of the film is something that Disney has usually been known for in earlier years but also something that it has seemingly lacked in recent years, a hefty villainous presence. Now, if Netflix’s “Over the Moon” has proven anything, it is that not every single animated antagonist needs to be wicked or evil. For most of “Raya and the Last Dragon,” the villain is just a bunch of particles that move around. Now, to be fair, these particles can be threatening at time, but when you have a company that has been built for years on imagination, it is somewhat weird to see them resort to lifeless blobs as the main villain.
Then again, this is the same company that copy-pasted “The Lion King” in 2019 and made a billion dollars off of it, so what do I know?
At the same time, there is a constant rivalry between Raya and Namaari, from the land of Fang. The movie shows these two early on getting along with each other until an unexpected turn happens in which case they are no longer on each other’s side. This rivalry is integral to the film and the events that play throughout. The constant drive that plays out due to each of these characters’ disconnect to one another is a highlight of the film and makes for one of the more interesting relationships I have seen in a recent movie.
Speaking of characters, this film also had quite a few compelling supporting members of the cast as well. You have Sisu the dragon, played by Awkwafina, who partially plays herself in a way. But in my book, I do not mean that as a diss. Awkwafina has an admirable personality so I like seeing that interjected into this dragon character. Aside from seeing her for a majority of the film, we have Boun, a sidekick boy who makes shrimp. Joining them is a baby named Little Noi who if you ask me, can probably slaughter the Boss Baby in a fight.
But before we go any further, I want to bring up the songs in this film. There’s not even one original, Disney-esque song in this entire thing, and having seen the movie, there never should have been! This movie pulls no punches and wastes no time. I was here to watch something that kicks some ass and I assure you that my ass may have been kicked. But this does not mean the music in this film is lame. In fact, it is composed by James Newton Howard, known for his work on “The Hunger Games” and “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” Therefore, when it comes to both fantastical settings and films where groups of people are divided, this is not Howard’s first rodeo, AND IT SHOWS. I know we are only in March, but I think we already have a contender for the best film score of 2021. It is like a lighthearted mix of “Mad Max” and your traditional martial arts-centric or warrior movie. James Newton Howard collaborated with Hans Zimmer on the scores for “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight,” both of which are really good scores. Although this “Raya and the Last Dragon” score may almost be my favorite of his so far. Tonally speaking it is generally quick, nearly rambunctious, and some of the percussion really stands out.
In the end, “Raya and the Last Dragon” did not just rock my world, it rocked my Disney world. The film is just purely bold and rustic and fun! I needed this after “Tom & Jerry,” let me just say that much! Time will tell as for how often I’ll watch this film again, but for my first viewing, I was blown away. This film is technically stunning and as a story, it sort of opens doors for sequels, expansions, lore, and I am admittedly quite curious to the point where I want to see where things go from here with the “Raya” property. I do not know if it will end up happening due to the pandemic, but I see this film, much like many others, becoming a fan favorite. And if anything else, I mentioned once again, this film has a lack of original songs. So, note to everyone who made the live-action “Mulan,” this is probably what your movie should have been! I’m going to give “Raya and the Last Dragon” a 9/10.
“Raya and the Last Dragon” is now playing in theaters wherever they are open, however due to Cinemark not confirming a deal with Disney, the film is not playing at any of their locations. The film is however also currently available on Disney+ with Premier Access for a one-time $29.99 fee on top of your subscription.
Thanks for reading this review! I just want to let everyone know, if things on Scene Before seem slower than usual, I have admittedly been quite busy with school and other goings on in life, so I do apologize if I am supposedly lagging. Although if it makes you feel any better, I want to announce that on Monday, April 5th, I’ll be starting my “Mortal Kombat: Finish the Reviews” review series, so I will have my review up for the 1995 “Mortal Kombat” movie. I watched the film earlier this month, and I am looking forward to talking about it. I will also be discussing “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation” on April 12th. As for new movies, pretty soon I will hopefully have reviews up for “Chaos Walking,” “Boogie,” and “Nobody.” I am also seeing “Godzilla vs. Kong” this Wednesday, so I should hopefully have a review for that up soon as well. Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account so you can stay tuned for more great content! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Raya and the Last Dragon?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite Alan Tudyk film? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!