by KJ Proulx
Whether you’re talking about great films like Zootopia, Big Hero 6, or Moana, Disney animation continues to deliver rich and fresh stories, along with gorgeous animation. If for nothing else, the fact that they still continue to put out great animated films is what keeps me interested in what comes next. Raya and the Last Dragon is their latest release, now in theatres and available on Disney+. Being an original concept, I was very eager to witness this one, but unfortunately, it seemed far too familiar in many regards. Disney’s latest major animated release is rich in terms of the world surrounding the story but is lacks flare in many other areas. Here are my thoughts on Raya and the Last Dragon.
The first few minutes of the film sets up that the land of Kumandra was once peaceful and prosperous, with humans and dragons living and working together. After an event shattered their livelihood, the dragons all sacrificed themselves to keep the humans alive. This in turn created a divide and the land broke off into multiple tribes. Many years later, a young woman in Raya is determined to find the last remaining dragon in hopes to restore what once was. This premise is the blueprint for many other films, so the film already had me sighing when the first act concluded.
Before I dive into the main reason this film bothered me, this is a very well-done movie by all involved. The animation (as always from Disney) is utterly beautiful to look at and the score by James Newton Howard felt very inspired and elevated each scene for me. The musical cues had my heart pounding. I was, even more, looking forward to this film due to its directors. I know there was some drama surrounding the making of this film, but having Don Hall (who is very familiar with working with animation) and Carlos Lopez Estrada (who made one of my favourite films of 2018 in Blindspotting) helming the project was music to my ears.
I really enjoyed watching this film, but where it slightly failed/disappointed me was in the fact that it didn’t take many risks. Endangered loved ones, tribes against each other while one outstanding person wants to make everything right, and a human befriending a creature are all things that have been done time and time again. These things can all be forgiven when a film puts a fresh take on them, but in the end, it all played out exactly as I expected. By the time the credits rolled, I found myself admiring the look, feel, and overall message the film delivered for kids, but I absolutely wish it had given me more.
Overall, Raya and the Last Dragon is the prime example of how truly stellar animation can look. There are times when I didn’t even feel like I was watching an animated film. I can’t recommend this film to kids enough, because I believe the messages are more than worth their time. In that respect, this film is terrific, but in terms of doing something new and different, it just didn’t do it for me. There are a lot of positives here to write home about, but I don’t think it’s a must-see or anything that requires immediate attention.
Check out the trailer below: