3:00 pm EST, March 2, 2021

Disney’s ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ review: Short on dragons, big on heart

Animation always feels like an escape, but after the year that was 2020, it’s even more necessary than ever to take advantage of each extravagant inch we’re offered in Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon.

A quick word about ‘Us Again’

Raya and the Last Dragon

Before we jump right into loving on Raya and the Last Dragon with this review, I want to touch on the heartwarming and sweet short that Disney treated us to before the show. Us Again is such a wonderful, wordless way to explore the value of human relationships.

So much emotion can be expressed and understood with body language and faces, and is used to perfect effect watching this sweet couple reconnect in a fantastic way. I will happily add it to the delightful collection of shorts Disney has offered over the years.

Related: Review: Disney’s live-action Mulan brings the action, but needs more heart

‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ review

Following the lyrically successful Soul, Disney presents an imaginative romp through a collection of fantasy Asian nations to tell the story of a daughter’s quest to make her father’s most desperate dream come true.

And an adventure it surely is. Raya’s desire to not only right the wrong she had a hand in causing, but to go further than that to try to realize the dream her father envisioned in her youth, burns bright and strong from the moment we meet her in the broken future.

I’m not one to want to spoil anyone’s first viewing experience, so I won’t go into much detail about the goings-on of the plot with this Raya and the Last Dragon review. But I can absolutely say that the voice talents of Kelly Marie Tran, Gemma Chan, and Benedict Wong, among others, are used particularly well and to their fullest potential. There definitely isn’t a better choice for the bold and daring Raya than Tran, that’s for sure. She brings a vitality to the role that I’m hard-pressed to believe could be duplicated by anyone else.

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Raya and the Last Dragon

Chan’s work portraying Raya‘s antagonist is equally stunning. Watching these two powerful and skilled ladies square off to bring their parents’ most desperate dreams to fruition is the truest strength of this movie. Raya and the Last Dragon allows its female leads to shine as their quests force their paths to collide time and time again.

The color and vibrancy of this movie had me feeling more excited than I’ve felt in months. Raya is a brilliant kaleidoscope of hues, especially once our heroine starts adventuring across the countryside. The styles and specificity of each of the nations that Raya comes across throughout her adventure are crafted in unique and inventive ways.

After watching the behind-the-scenes documentary for Frozen 2 repeatedly on Disney+ over the last year, I have an increased appreciation for the hard work and creative energy that it takes to build an entire animated world. I applaud the builders of Raya and the Last Dragon for blending style and substance so beautifully to bring this vibrant world to life.

Oh, and there be dragons, too. It wouldn’t be a review of a movie called Raya and the Last Dragon without discussing the ways Raya used these legendary creatures. Honestly, I wish there had been a little more dragon lore in this movie. While the story of Sisu and her siblings’ magic was interesting, this was the least developed part of the story for me.

And when you have almost all the other parts of the narrative swinging with full force, it feels odd to pull a punch or two when it comes to the most fantastic part of the story. Especially when the entire creation of the universe is based on a dragon’s anatomy. But I digress.

Raya and the Last Dragon

If you’re looking to step out of the crazy reality we’ve been immersed in for the last year or more, Raya and the Last Dragon will not disappoint. The fun and heart jump off the screen thanks to some truly incredible animation, a healthy dose of style, and a few voiceover performances that rock hard.

While I wish I could have seen it on the big screen, and I hope we will all be able to safely return there soon, Raya and the Last Dragon burns bright from beginning to end no matter what size the screen. And if you can’t afford the hefty price tag for premiere access from home, this movie will be worth the wait in a few months time (if the Mulan release timeline holds true here, too).

Raya and the Last Dragon premieres this Friday in theaters nationwide and on Disney+ for an additional fee of $29.99.

What did you think of ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’? Let us know your own review of the new Disney film in the comments below!

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