We are a pretty easy bunch to keep happy here at the Last Movie Outpost. Gunplay, explosions, car chases, superheroes, spaceships. Mix that together and it is a safe bet that at least a few of us will find something to like in there. If in doubt, throw in a ninja and a wise-cracking sidekick.
Sometimes, however, they make movies that don’t really feature any of the above and then we are a bit lost. Movies like Raya And The Last Dragon. For movies like that, we have to rely on a different kind of Outposter. Luckily, for these things, Creativityishard/KK makes the leap from the Disqus to contribute. Phew!
Just quick backstory. I wasn’t planning on watching this. None of the trailers look like something I’d watch and Mulan burned me. However my brother and I share a Disney+ account, his daughter (my niece) has me wrapped around her little finger. She calls me Aunt Cake on account of all the baking I do for her, and she wanted to watch it. I can’t resist, so of course I got it for her. I don’t think I’m the target audience, but as we had it, I watched it.
Visually this movie is stunning. Disney animation can render beautiful movies. The world building and animation is absolutely stunning. The movie nails that. The movie looks visually different from other Disney movies.
That said, part of the reason why it looks so different is because the story takes a lot from anime, The Last Airbender, even The Last Unicorn. This movie feels like Disney said:
“Hey quick can I copy your homework… but not too much?”
That’s what this movie feels like. The basic plot is familiar too. 500 years ago this fictional land (heavily inspired by South East Asia) was invaded by these dark creatures that multiplied and turned turned humans and dragons into stone.
Legend has it that one dragon took all her magic to create a stone to protect the humans. This dragon died in the process. The land becomes more divided and each nation takes the name of part of a dragon (Fang, Tail, Spine, Heart, and Talon).
We meet a young Raya and her idealistic father who are from Heart. Her father, Benja, wants the nations to reunite. When Raya trusts the young princess from Fang, the dragon stone breaks causing the dark creatures to come back and no magic to protect them. Raya’s father sacrifices himself to let Raya escape.
We meet Raya and her trusty stead, a rolly poly guinea pig, horse thingy six years later. Raya is on the hunt for the last dragon. Her goal is to get all the pieces of the dragon stone together from all of the nations. This all goes super smoothly and everything goes exactly as planned.
Nope. Who am I kidding? Nothing goes as planned. We see that all the other nations have suffered in their own ways, Fang being blamed for the dragon stone breaking. Sisu, the last dragon, reiterates that humans need to trust each other and find the good. Meanwhile Raya feels like humanity is too far gone. Eventually we learn who is right and who is wrong… because no spoilers.
Again, this movie felt like it was borrowing a lot from different genres. Because of this it didn’t feel like another boring Disney animated movie.
When I first heard about this movie, initially I didn’t see why they hired Awkwafina to be the voice of the dragon. She didn’t seem like a true fit for this movie. I was wrong. Listening to Sisu, there is such sadness in her voice that you forget who is playing Sisu. Instead the character becomes very fleshed out. It was really beautiful to see. I especially liked a sequence where Sisu shape shifts and the voice with the character really fits as this happens.
Kelly Marie Tran finally gets to be a Disney Princess in this. Lucille Soong’s voice is one I instantly recognized. I knew exactly who that was. Benedict Wong plays someone from Spine, and once you see the hints of his character, you understand that he’s truly tragic. Wong does really nice work here.
Sisu’s story arch is beautiful. I would’ve liked to seen more of that. They resisted the urge to make her a funny side-kick and she’s so fully fleshed out and central to the plot they could have almost called the movie Sisu And This Girl.
What they did for her when she shape shifts, I really enjoyed that. Like in The Last Unicorn, it would be easy to make the last dragon a gorgeous woman when she became human. No, Sisu has messed up teeth, her proportions in her face are off, she has poor posture. I really dug that. It flipped the script.
Do I Think This Deserves A Sequel?
Yeah? Maybe? Since they did so much world building. The movie was well made but the story needed work. I would’ve liked to seen more dragon backstory. How Sisu’s siblings were, that family dynamic, would be an interesting story to tell. But the movie doesn’t need it.
Should you watch it? I mean, it is beautiful. Watch for the animation even if the moral is a little heavy handed.