New to Disney+ this weekend is the animated adventure movie, Raya and the Last Dragon. The film – directed by Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada – features the voice talents of Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Benedict Wong, Sandra Oh, and Daniel Dae Kim, and tells the story of a young woman called Raya, who bands together with a dragon, in order to save her home.
In the movie, Raya lives in Kumandra – a beautiful and prosperous land filled with life and happiness. However, Kumandra has known heartache in the past, having previously suffered at the hands of the Druun – a group of evil spirits with the power to turn all living things to stone.
500 years ago, the Druun attacked and nearly brought Kumandra to its knees. If not for the sacrifice of all the dragons in the land, who concentrated their magic into a gem stone to defeat the Druun, Kumandra would be no more.
Evil was vanquished that day, but the win came at a price: all the dragons, bar one, were tuned to stone and all the people became divided, splintering into five tribes: Heart, Spine, Talon, Tail, and Fang.
Each tribe took care of their own, and this remained the default setting for the centuries that followed. That is until Chief Benja, leader of the Heart tribe, attempted to reunite the land.
But his plan failed, division set in once more, the Druun returned, and darkness took over. And now, the only chance for Kumandra to be free, lies in the hands of Raya, who must track down the last dragon, Sisu, and try once again to bring unity to all.
Raya and the Last Dragon made its debut back in March, where it was available to watch in cinemas, as well as through Disney+ Premier Access for a one-off rental fee. It has since been made available to buy on digital platforms, and can also be picked up on Blu-ray and DVD.
However, from today, if you subscribe to Disney+ you can now watch the movie for free. It is included as part of your subscription package, so if you or your family have been itching to watch it, now is the time to dive right in!
Raya and the Last Dragon is Disney’s 59th animated feature, and therefore rubs shoulders with the likes of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), The Little Mermaid (1989), and Frozen (2013). And in keeping with its predecessors (let’s gloss over duds such as Home on the Range and Oliver and Company), it keeps up the tradition of being a great picture, worthy of the title of ‘Walt Disney Animated Classic’.
This film shines on many levels, but let me begin with the most obvious: the animation. Raya and the Last Dragon is beautiful to look at, and boasts some eye-popping visuals that really bring the story to life.
All Walt Disney animated movies look good, even the ones with the weak stories, but with each new entry they get better and better, and that’s very true of this one. From its opening moments to the closing credits, Raya and the Last Dragon maintains a consistently high standard of animation, which is simply stunning. There are moments in the movie, which bring a smile to the face, and while I don’t want to spoil what they are, I shall simply say that one of them involves the rain and looks so damn magical.
Now as good as the animation is, movies like this can’t just exist on visuals alone, they need so much more, including a great story, a strong voice cast, and an excellent soundtrack. And yep, you guessed it, Raya and the Last Dragon has all of this.
In terms of the story, the film is a moral tale about division and unity. It presents a narrative which demonstrates that people are stronger when they work together, and with the world becoming increasingly divided, this feels like a very timely message.
As far as the voice cast go, everyone is perfectly cast, with Kelly Marie Tran doing great work as Raya. Tran brings strength, courage, and heart to the role, and ensures that Raya is a powerful character, that I expect many will look up to. Raya has the right attitude, looks cool, and is a bit of a bad ass – which is basically everything you could want in a hero.
A special mention should also go to Awkwafina, who provides the voice of Sisu, the dragon. The actress gets all of the comedic lines, delivers them effortlessly, and like Tran, brings a fully-rounded (and oh-so cute) character to the screen.
And then there is the music which breaks from Disney tradition, by not being wall-to-wall show tunes. There are no show-stopping ditties in this feature, the music is instead a more subtle, orchestral accompaniment, which helps to convey the mood and setting.
This isn’t the first time that Disney has dropped the big numbers from one of its movies, it’s happened multiple times before (Treasure Planet, Atlantis etc); but I must admit, I do always worry that without toe-tapping songs to fill the running time, the movie won’t work as well. Well, this is not the case here, because the music does its job perfectly, with composer James Newton Howard providing a score which really compliments the world that has been created.
In addition to all of the above, Raya and the Last Dragon is humorous, action-packed, and even a touch emotional. I’m not saying I shed a tear, but I certainly came close.
This is a movie designed for the whole family, with plenty to offer all ages, and I expect everyone will fall in love with it. Raya and the Last Dragon is a sheer delight to watch and I encourage you to check it out at your earliest convenience.