My best friend turned twenty recently, and we went to see Disney's Raya and the Last Dragon together. I honestly think that the best part of the movie was staying for the credits and trying to pronounce the ridiculous last names of some of the people who worked on the movie. (That, and my friend's mom somehow managed to get her shoes stuck together. Getting them untangled caused a few laughs.)
That said, Raya and the Last Dragon was a decent movie. I was going to spend today's blog reviewing Life of Pi, but the movie is fresh in my mind so I wanted to review it first. Keep in mind that I've only seen the film once, so if I ever see the film again, I might have to come back at it with a few more criticisms.
The plot of the movie is pretty basic. The hero girl, Raya, is responsible for breaking the magical Dragon Gem and is on a quest to find all the pieces, which have been taken by five warring factions of a once-united kingdom. She also finds the Last Dragon, a water dragon named Sisu, who's been asleep for five hundred years and is about as naïve as a homeschooled six-year-old. Anyway, Raya and Sisu travel to each of the five factions, gaining friends along the way. They're being chased by the Drune (or however you spell it), purple evil spirits that turn people into stone, as well as the backstabbing Princess Namari. Even though Namari has tried to kill Raya on multiple occasions, the group ends up trusting her with the fate of the world after the climactic Drune attack. The power of trust heals the world, all the people the Drune have turned into stone come back to life, the magical dragons fart rainbows and all's right in the world.
Let's start with the things I liked about the movie. First off, the animation was excellent. It's Disney, so I really wasn't expecting anything less. Still, the visuals were stunning, and the soundtrack was pretty good, too.
The movie is clearly in the fantasy genre. Most fantasy worlds are based on medieval Europe--castles, kings, battles, white people, and so on. Raya is set in an Asian-based fantasy world. I've heard the internet ranting about how fantasy needs more diversity, and while I'm normally of the "if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it" mindset, I actually think that Disney pulled this off pretty well. There's also one point where the protagonist Raya sings in a fantasy language, and it's really--and I mean really--cool.
Also, the titular dragon, Sisu, was a great character. Pretty much the only great character in the movie, although there were some "good" characters and a few "meh" characters. But Sisu was amazing.
Speaking of characters, I'm not sure what to think about most of them. It's very clear that Disney had a very strong feminist agenda while writing this movie. It's essentially gender-swapped: the two male adult characters are very kind and caring and good with kids. The two young female characters are at odds and usually trying to kill each other. Disney actually did a decent job with this gender-swap in that it doesn't usually feel forced (although I personally find Raya's dad too kind, loving, and altruistic to be realistic, especially given that he's a king and a warrior). I don't appreciate the ideology behind these character dynamics, but it actually works in the context of the story.
Now onto the stuff I didn't like.
When I write a book, I try to make sure that the opening line, the first paragraph, and the first chapter are the best writing I'm capable of. The writers of Raya and the Last Dragon really dropped the ball on this one. The first scene has absolutely horrible dialogue. This is partially explained by the fact that everyone was working from home and apparently forgot what normal human conversation sounds like. The rest of the movie was slightly better, but Sisu was the only character whose dialogue was (mostly) good and realistic.
Onto the characters. The main character, Raya, is very one-dimensional and very goal-oriented. Her character arc consists of her learning how to "trust people," even though the people she ends up "trusting" are clearly not deserving of trust and have betrayed her multiple times in the past. While I understand that the movie was intended to show the world that different groups of people can indeed get along, Disney picked a terrible way of showing it. A better lesson from the movie would be "Set boundaries and stick to them."
There are also some plot holes. Why didn't Raya's tribe do a better job of guarding the Dragon Gem? It's revealed that the warrior tribe of Spine got mostly turned into stone by the Drune; why is there a single survivor? This guy even lost his wife and infant child to the Drune, and it makes no sense that he made no effort to sacrifice himself for his family. And why is the baby from Talon a criminal mastermind?
Anyway, I've seen better movies, and I've seen worse movies. Raya and the Last Dragon might not be a masterpiece like some of Disney's older works, but it's certainly a decent film. I give it a solid B.
If you've seen Raya and the Last Dragon, what are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to review us on Amazon!
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.