Earlier this month, Disney released their latest animated film, Raya and the Last Dragon. The film has received critical acclaim, with a 7.5/10 rating on IMDb, 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, and 75% on Metacritic.
Long before the film takes place, humans and dragons all coexisted in peace in a land called Kumandra. Although seemingly idyllic, Kumandra had always been haunted by the presence of the Druun, evil purple and black spirits that turn people to stone and multiply when they do so. Then, 500 years before the story of Raya (I’ll get to her soon), the dragons all came together to create an orb with their combined magic, hoping that the orb would banish the Druun and revive previous victims, but the dragons failed and were turned to stone themselves. Then, the five tribes of Kumandra (Fang, Spine, Heart, Tail, and Talon) began fighting for the orb, in hopes of harnessing the last remaining power of the now-extinct dragons.
The Heart tribe are the protectors of the orb. 500 years after the extinction of the dragons, Chief Benja of the Heart tribe is training his daughter, Raya (the protagonist) to eventually take his place as the protector or the orb. Chief Benja decides to host a feast for leaders of the five tribes to come together in peace. He belives that the tribes can come together and become Kumandra once again. After the arrival of the four other tribes, Raya befriends the daughter of Chief Virana (Fang), Namaari. Namaari tells Raya of a Fang legend that the dragon Sisu is still alive at the end of a river, but that they don’t know which river. Raya brings Namaari, a fellow dragon enthusiast, to see the historic orb. Then, in a shocking twist, Namaari betrays and attacks Raya to steal the orb. Raya bests Namaari, but while on the ground, Namaari shoots a flare to attract her tribe members to help her.
When the tribes arrive and begin fighting for the orb, it splits into five pieces and the Druun, no longer held back by the orb’s magic, suddenly arrive and start chasing the people as they did hundreds of years earlier. Chief Benja and Raya run away on a bridge, but to no avail. In a last-ditch effort to save Raya’s life, he throws her off the bridge into the water, because the Druun don’t like the water. He is then turned to stone before Raya’s innocent eyes.
For the next six years, Raya searches for Sisu without even being sure Sisu is alive. Raya eventually arrives at a shipwreck at the last river she has left to search. She manages to summon Sisu. This may seem like a spoiler, but I figure that because “The Last Dragon” is in the movie’s title, you already assumed that there was one remaining dragon. I won’t give any more spoilers, don’t worry!
Then Raya and Sisu embark on a mission to take back the orb fragments from the other tribes. Raya is on a quest to use Sisu and the orb’s power to bring her father back, but she ends up doing much more. During their travels, they make friends with a young ship captain named Boun who takes them to their destinations, they encounter a thieving “con baby” who they eventually adopt and bring aboard the ship, they realize the extent of the Druun’s success (the Druun reduced the population of the Spine tribe to just one person, whom they befriend and take aborard as well), and they fight Namaari several times. Once, Raya is even saved by Sisu against Namaari, confirming to Namaari that Sisu is still alive. Raya and Namaari eventually have a final confrontation in the land of Fang.
If I continue about the plot past this point, I will inevitably spoil the ending, but the movie is really based around the theme of trust (we all know that all Disney movies have profound lessons). Raya is scarred by Namarri’s betrayal, and she vows never to trust anyone ever again. She ends up having to, however. Sisu, Boun, Noi (the “con baby”), and Tong (the Spine warrior they befriend) all join her on her quest, and she entrusts them to important roles several times. Throughout the movie, Sisu constantly tries to get Raya to forgive Namaari and offer her a gift. Raya eventually relents, and the movie culminates in a final confrontation (I can’t really give any more details or I’ll spoil it).
So… would I recommend you watch Raya and the Last Dragon? Yes. I’m no movie expert, but I think it’s a fun and easy watch. It’s simple to understand, and it would be especially fun to watch with a younger sibling, for example. The theme of trust is very important as well, and we see the struggle of whether or not to trust others reflected in Raya. The movie is very well thought out, and while movie enthusiasts have found a few holes in the story, the average watcher would not notice. The animations are great, and it’s a fun PG family movie for those nights when you need some cheering up, or your brain is simply too tired to watch a more serious movie.