The latest Disney princess embarks on a journey where she meets the most unlikely companions and learns the meaning of trust.
In a world named Kumandra where dragons used to roam in utopian paradise, things have gone more than wrong. Now, Kumandra is divided into five kingdoms: Heart, Fang, Spine, Talon, and Tail. At first glance, Raya and the Last Dragon deals with themes we have seen before, but the journey still never fails to be surprising and immersive. Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) and her dad are committed to protecting a dragon gem that protects humanity from the evil Druun, a mindless plague that turns everything into stone. After Raya’s dad invites the four neighboring kingdoms to proclaim peace, Raya befriends Naamari (Gemma Chan). She quickly tries to steal the stone, creating chaos and unleashing the Druun in the process. Each kingdom runs away with a piece of the broken gem, Raya’s dad is sadly turned into stone, and Raya jumps into the river with her cute armadillo sidekick Tuk Tuk.
Years later, Raya finds herself in a dystopian-like world. The Druun have ravaged the entire kingdom, and Naamari is on an endless mission to catch Raya and get her piece of the stone. This is where the quest begins. Raya is lucky enough to find the last dragon in the world named Sisu, played hilariously by Awkwafina. Together they travel to every kingdom, trying to complete the dragon gem. Along the way, the most unlikely and random companions join Raya, enhancing the comedy and sensibility of the movie. It has to be noted that the addition of a con-baby that literally steals with the help of three monkeys was not only creative but made for many LOL moments.
As Raya, Sisu, and the rest of the group continue their voyage, I couldn’t help but feel a familiarity with this world. The film is reminiscent of classic adventure stories and specifically carries epic journey vibes similar to Lord of the Rings. Fantasy fans out there will definitely appreciate the fight and expedition these characters have to make. At the same time, the world-building done by writers Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim was outstanding. Every character had its own personality according to its origin and the introduction of every kingdom was very exciting to watch.
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Directors Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada also did a great job when visually presenting each of the kingdoms. They were beautiful, whimsical, but realistic at the same time. The movie is deeply inspired and based on Southeastern Asian culture, and it shows. Not only do we get representation through the characters being the first Southeast Asian society in a Disney movie, but the imagery and design of these kingdoms are filled with vivid details that thrust you even more into the lore of the movie. The environments are probably the most enchanting I’ve ever seen in an animated film. Still, this is a fantasy version of Southeast Asia, and the balance between mixing real elements with magical ones was superb.
Furthermore, we have a new Disney Princess that’s also a hero and warrior in her own right and a female “villain” that ends up joining Raya to save humanity. This might be one of my favorite messages of the movie. Despite the treachery and disloyalty they both faced, they learn to trust each other and become friends, and maybe more because the queerbaiting in this "friendship" is strong! At one point, we see that Raya had saved up for six years a dragon pin that Naamari gave her when they were kids. If that's not love, I don't know what is.