Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

Posted in Reviews by - March 11, 2021
Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

With a majority Asian cast and crew and boasting Disney’s first Southeast Asian princess, this magical fantasy action film carries a sense of poignancy beyond the studio’s usual animated fare. It is also vibrantly animated, meticulously researched, and powered by an entirely wholesome message of unity and togetherness in troubling times. ‘Southeast Asia’ is a particularly broad geographic term, encompassing around 10 separate countries each with their own language, culture and identity. Similarly to how Marvel’s Wakanda represents a vision of an African utopia unspoilt by colonialism, this conjures up the mythical, magical backdrop of ‘Kumandra’ which seems to be a mash-up of countries including Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia and Indonesia. This lumping of countries into a single, amorphous fictional fantasy world has sparked some criticism for being another exercise in cultural appropriation from Hollywood. Perhaps – but it is also sensitive and celebratory in tone, and makes wonderfully deft references to individual nations in creative and subtle ways; through costume, food, landscapes, and particularly the fighting arts. As the titular young warrior Raya travels across a broken nation, she comes into conflict with many fearful tribes, each menaced by a human-made plague which is turning entire communities to stone and can only be defeated by finding and uniting the pieces of a shattered gemstone carrying the magic from Kumandra’s ‘last dragon’. Traveling on a giant rolling armadillo-like creature (called Tuk Tuk), she meets and befriends a number of colourful characters along the way in true Disney fashion. This includes the sassy, shape-shifting dragon Sisu (indelibly voiced by Awkwafina) and a neat group of thieving monkeys led by a kung fu baby which damn-near steals the film. As you can tell, this plays to a much younger viewer, so don’t expect any of the edge or profundity of, say, Kubo and the Two Strings. But it is still endearing, and visually quite stunning.

This post was written by
Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a keyboard in London, UK.

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