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Review: ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ is a rainbow of entertainment (Includes first-hand account)

‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ is a fantastical world in which all the dragons — except one — gave their lives to save the human race, but their power is once again needed to beat back the evil before it’s too late.

A scene from 'Raya and the Last Dragon' - Sarah Gopaul
A scene from ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ – Sarah Gopaul

‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ is a fantastical world in which all the dragons — except one — gave their lives to save the human race, but their power is once again needed to beat back the evil before it’s too late.

When greed and fear combine, the results are almost always disastrous. False beliefs and coveting a neighbour’s good fortunes only fuels bad blood that likely has no real founding. Stories are twisted to fit a narrative of hate and distrust, when there’s generally a more peaceful resolution to the conflict. Unfortunately, unless all parties are willing to put their differences aside and find a solution, nothing can be resolved. In Raya and the Last Dragon, a community is fractured by its suspicions of each other, leading to warring clans and potentially irreparable harm.

Five hundred years ago, the world was ravaged by a malevolent darkness known as Druun. The dragons, who lived harmoniously with humans, sacrificed themselves to create a gem that would ward off the evil and undo its spell. Heart has been the stone’s keeper since then, but the other surrounding clans – tail, spine, talon and fang – that comprise Kumandra vie to steal it as they believe it’s the source of Heart’s prosperity. A peaceful summit hosted by Heart in an attempt to reunite Kumandra turns tragic, resulting in the destruction of the stone and the return of Druun. Determined to save the world once more, Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) scours the land to restore the stone and find Sisu (Awkwafina), who’s rumoured to be the last remaining dragon lost in the aftermath half a millennium ago.

Disney’s animators once again create a stunning, detailed world of magical creatures and engaging characters. Firstly, there are the dazzling dragons with an amazing range of abilities. However, Sisu is not only attractive, but very funny — even though it’s not always intentional. Raya’s pet Tuk Tuk grows quite a bit over the course of the film, doubling as her transportation and best friend. Fang rides humungous, gorgeous cats and small, cute, furry creatures with fairy-like wings frequently run across the screen. Meanwhile, Raya is very likeable and incredibly capable, though her mistrust does primarily rear its ugly head when it’s convenient to the narrative. Throughout her journey, she meets a young, eager restauranteur; a “con baby” and her acrobatic monkey accomplices; and a warrior who’s lost his place in the world.

Adding to the film’s fantastical elements is its vibrant colour palette. There are a lot of pastels mixed with warm colours, which create an atmosphere of whimsy and fun. In addition, each of the five lands that compose Kumandra has its own unique landscape and design scheme, from barren deserts to an island oasis. Water also plays a significant role in the picture, so it’s distinctly incorporated into each location and throughout the narrative.

The characters’ arcs follow the typical Disney paths, but there’s a reason their approach is so classic. It’s a very enjoyable adventure with moments that are entertaining, thrilling and heartwarming.

Directors: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada, Paul Briggs and John Ripa
Starring: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina and Gemma Chan

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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