It’s a fairly common plot for a Disney movie: a lone protagonist teams up with a powerful creature (the last of its kind, even!) to save the world while an even cuter creature tags along for comedy relief. But Raya and the Last Dragon is a testament to modern Disney’s brilliance while exploring a unique post-apocalyptic world that we’ve never seen in a Disney movie before (unless you believe the Aladdin theory!).
The world of Kumandra was once beautiful and prosperous in the days when dragons and people lived together in harmony, but when the monstrous Druun arrived, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save the humans. The last dragon, known as Sisu (voiced by Awkwafina), used a powerful orb known as the Dragon Gem to banish the Druun, restoring peace in Kumandra.
But that didn’t quite work. Kumandra turns into a devastated wasteland as the five nations — Heart, Fang, Spine, Talon, and Tail — continue to be at war with each other 500 years later. Kelly Marie Tran (The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker) stars as Raya, a warrior tasked with protecting that gem, but when it becomes shattered, she sets off to find Sisu to help her eliminate the Druun and restore Kumandra once and for all.
The thing that makes the world of Kumandra so unique is its perfect synergy between futuristic wasteland and classic high fantasy, all while maintaining the wonderful cultural air of Southeast Asia.
But even with that notion aside, the quality of the art and animation in this film is unmatched with anything I’ve seen in an animated film before. Disney set the bar with 1937’s hand-animated Snow White and it continues to blow us all away by setting that bar higher and higher each generation after.
On top of that, we get to visit each of the post-apocalyptic lands of Kumandra, which really adds so many layers to the whole experience. Because of the vast differences in the countries of Southeast Asia itself, I imagine these nations in the film are made to showcase those differences, while still maintaining an overall feel. And along the path of the adventure through these nations, Raya and Sisu get to meet the inhabitants of each land, Wizard-of-Oz-style.
To record for Raya and the Last Dragon, Kelly and her boyfriend built a makeshift fort with sound blankets. Most of the film’s animation and sound was worked on at home during lockdown. #DisneyRaya 🐉⚔️ pic.twitter.com/aAsJpQh2NJ
— Daily Kelly Marie Tran (@tranIoan) February 24, 2021
While this article isn’t really a review of the story itself, it’s worth noting that the rest of the elements are all there to make a film that’s enticing for all ages. Disney has such a knack for creating kids’ movies that make the parents laugh too, and this one is no exception.
Raya and the Last Dragon is releasing this Friday, March 5, both in theaters and on demand for $30 on Disney+.