Raya and the Last Dragon checks off all the boxes when it comes to what Disney fans are looking for in an animated adventure—and it checks off a few unexpected boxes, too.
Raya is the latest addition to the “Disney Princess” sub-franchise. She’s a terrific character voiced by Kelly Marie Tran, of the last two Star Wars movies (although her character was brushed aside in the second … oh, don’t get me started). She lives in the ancient land of Kumandra, a world once inhabited by happy dragons, but now cursed by a plague that has turned most of animal life (including dragons) to stone.
Raya’s mission to restore her land leads to the awakening of Sisu the Dragon, voiced by Awkwafina in the sort of vocal triumph that reminds of Robin Williams in Aladdin and Eddie Murphy in Shrek. Sisu can also morph into human form, and both her dragon and human forms look quite like the actress voicing them (the wide smile, the big eyes, those awesome eyebrows). Of course, her distinctive vocals are tailor-made for this kind of movie.
The four directors who put this movie together, along with a roster of writers, have inhabited this film world with enchantment, great action and solid laughs. One of the film’s best running gags would be the “Con Baby,” an infant plague survivor who manages to display superhero qualities while occasionally throwing her diapers at those who dare to chase her.
The story winds up being a terrific take on redemption, and the finale (which owes a little bit to Avengers: Endgame) may leave whole families in tears. Brightly animated, cleverly written and masterfully constructed, it’s a movie that will put a smile on your face and get your young daughters interested in martial arts and dragons.
Raya and the Last Dragon is now showing in theaters (but, alas, none locally as of now), and it’s available as a rental on Disney+ with Premier Access.