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Film Review: Raya and the Last Dragon

Raya and the Last Dragon

Title: Raya and the Last Dragon

Studio: Disney, Inc.

Written by: Qui Nguyen, Adele Lim & others

Directed by: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada & others

Release Date: March 5, 2021

Rating: PG

Running time: 107 minutes (1hr 47 min)

Cast: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Sandra Oh, Benedict Wong & others

Logline: In a realm known as Kumandra, a re-imagined Earth inhabited by an ancient civilization, a warrior named Raya is determined to find the last dragon.

My Grade: 7 out of 10 points

Disney’s newest animated film was created during the pandemic and many of the animators and other workers worked and created from home. That is a neat detail about the movie, seeing as I am someone who works from home and knows that it can be done in a lot more circumstances than people want to believe. Especially people in higher positions like upper management and executive levels.

It would be such a great thing to work for a big, established company but not be tied to the (most likely) leftist-run city they are based in, like Burbank, CA with regards to Disney. Imagine being conservative and working for United Airlines. If that job could be remote and that person could escape Chicago, that would be wonderful.

Anyway, I digress.

Raya and the Last Dragon is a decent movie. It’s entertaining enough, and it’s not too annoying politically, and even though it is a dip into the South Asian cultural pool visually, with pseudo-Asian references sprinkled in here and there, most of the language, attitude, and customs are very westernized. In other words, it’s a bunch of white people in Asian garb, very similar to Asian roles in the 50s and 60s. I just think it’s funny how cancel-culture and liberals in general call out cultural appropriation only when it benefits them. I don’t imagine that will ever change, nor do I wish it to be changed. It would just be nice for people to stop pretending to be so inclusive when they are doing the opposite.

Again, I digress.

The movie is either available to watch in theaters if you can stand a theater experience wearing a mask and with very limited food and beverages, or as a premium feature on the Disney+ app. That means an additional $19.99 charge to the already $70 a year subscription fee Disney charges. Usually, one theater ticket is that much, so I figured my daughter is probably going to watch this movie at least 100 times in the next few days, so the $19.99 will go much farther than the theater experience.

So, the first time watching it, we invited friends over and their little one was a bit too hyper to sit through the entire thing. We watched about ⅔ of it before turning it off, but I could tell it was something I would be able to sit through.

Later in the week, my daughter, wife, and I were able to watch the entire thing and the most obvious theme stressed throughout the movie was this idea of “Kumandra” which is their way of saying utopia. The only utopia I know of is the Kingdom of Heaven, so it’s easy to dismiss the naivety of this premise and move on to the more subtle themes of the film.

SPOILER: In the end, "Raya" is able to bring the warring clans together and achieve “Kumandra.” She makes her father proud and shows the world that a female can do anything a male can do and even more. A theme our society is very keen on ingraining into every man, woman, and child’s psyche. And that’s where the film ends even though we all know, "Kumandra" will last at best maybe a generation before the war picks up again. It is inevitable, no matter who or what gender might bring about some period of peace.

Moving on…

The theme that I really liked—that got me through the movie—was that if you want something, you have to be the one to take the first step. You cannot rely on others to do something, especially when it is you who suggests the premise or idea. If "Kumandra is really what you want, you have to take the first step in achieving it. But this theme applies to much more practical applications in real life. If you want success—whatever that looks like to you—then you have to be the one to go get it. You cannot rely on your parents, or teachers, or friends, or co-workers, or the government. So even though I believe utopia is naive and impossible to achieve, especially for a long period of time, if that’s what "Raya" wants, then she has to be the one to make the first step. That is what real leadership is. Show everyone else you know what you want and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it.

I also like the theme of honoring your father. Even though "Raya" is a strong young woman, she gets her motivation and a lot of her courage and strength from her father. No matter how liberal and feminist a movement and a humongous corporation behind it can be, basic human traits cannot be erased. A girl needs her father. Just like a son needs his father. Just like children need their mother. All these shouldn’t even need to be said. It is even more basic than the notion of common sense.

Sure, there are plenty of things I could nitpick about this movie. In the end, it’s something I can let my child watch repeatedly because it’s entertaining, mostly harmless, and at times funny. It has a dragon that is cute but also wise and powerful as well as funny and a little green, which added to its cuteness. I could point out (I guess I am pointing out) that “Heart” the clan that is pretty much in charge, is the lightest skinned clan, while the other clans who look at themselves as being oppressed are at least 2-3 shades darker in skin color. Something that seems pretty intentional.

In any case, again, moderately harmless. Those that are against showing their kids Disney movies will find all the same tropes and propaganda as all the other movies. Those that allow their kids to watch Disney movies will find that this one is much of the same. They have a formula that works and they are not going to stray from it so long as it keeps bringing in the moolah.

So for me, my daughter loves it, she is entertained by it, and I love seeing her happy. I love seeing her laugh at the dragon and I love seeing her pretend to fight evil. As long as she has me to suss out the important themes from the woke ones or the superficial ones, I think she will be just fine.

I am grading this movie 7 out of a possible 10 points.

Visually, it is great. The animators keep making it harder and harder to watch older animated movies. We tried watching Monsters Inc recently and I almost turned it off because of how bad the animation was compared to newer movies. The voice actors did a pretty good job, especially Awkwafina playing "Sisu the Dragon" and Kelly Marie Tran as "Raya." Also, Benedict Wong as the character "Tong" did a great job. The only one that was kind of annoying to me was Isaac Wang as "Boun," but he’s just a kid so I’ll cut him some slack. The plot was interesting and moved in a linear fashion. There really weren’t any twists and it was pretty predictable for the most part. But I don’t think that hurt the film at all. The music was the thing I thought lacked the most. The so-called Asian songs were very annoying and the score was underwhelming.

This may have been edited out of the film at some point but I had to look up the term, “Vinturi” or “Benturi” as some have spelled it. It is used frequently in the movie but without explanation or contextual buildup and information. It means what it sounds like when used, an insult, but it would’ve been great on production’s part to not just use a term from left field and expect people to just be like, okay, sure, fine. It’s like when they use foreign language words in other movies and expect people to know what they mean, like “hijole” in Coco, which is the English equivalent of something like, “whoa” or “wow.”

Not a deal-breaker, just an observation.

These are the things that stood out to me about the movie. It is a feel-good film with a positive hope for humanity. It’s harmless and on a pure entertainment value level, it’s a fun movie.

Let me know what you think about the movie, or whether or not you decide to watch it. If you did, was it at home or in the theater? What did you think about it and more importantly, what did you think about this review?


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