Raya and the Last Dragon Review: Kelly Marie Tran's movie is a visually aesthetic take on 'hopeful humanity'

Raya and the Last Dragon uses fiction to depict how humans can be their own worst enemies but when push comes to shove, a hopeful future is very much amenable. Read Pinkvilla's review below.
Raya and the Last Dragon has released in India today, i.e. March 5. Raya and the Last Dragon Review: Kelly Marie Tran's movie is a visually aesthetic take on 'hopeful humanity'
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Raya and the Last Dragon

Raya and the Last Dragon Voice Cast: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Sandra Oh, Benedict Wong

Raya and the Last Dragon Director: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada

Raya and the Last Dragon Stars: 3.5/5

In today's turbulent times, we still can't help but find solace in fictional tales, especially when it comes to original animated flicks with their effervescent magic. Disney's latest outing Raya and the Last Dragon; which gives a breather from 'cash cow' live-action and sequel parades, couldn't have come at a better timing when humanity in itself is having an existential crisis.

For the unversed, Raya and the Last Dragon takes place in Kumandra, a kingdom whose geographical landscape has been equally inspired by Southeast Asia, as is the deeply intrinsic storytelling, and where humans and dragons once lived harmoniously. However, evil spirits named Druun wreak havoc by turning people and dragons into stone. Before their ill-fates, the dragons combine their powers into a Dragon Gem which helps bring back humans but not the dragons. With the last dragon named Sisu (Awkwafina), who saved the day, hidden from the world, the Dragon Gem becomes a source of contention between the five tribes of Kumandra: Fang, Heart, Tail, Spine and Talon with Heart's Chief Benja (Daniel Dae Kim) protecting the precious MacGuffin.

In the midst of attempting a truce between the five regions, Chief Benja and his young, feisty daughter Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) is blindsided by Fang's Chieftess Virana (Sandra Oh) and her young daughter Namaari's (Gemma Chan) betrayal. This leads to the Dragon Gem breaking into five pieces and being subsequently stolen by the tribes. Most importantly, it leads to the reawakening of Druun. Six years later, Raya is on the hunt for Sisu to help bring back the missing pieces of the Dragon Gem as an act of restoring humanity from the devious 'smoky' clutches of Druun.

What we get in return is a visually appealing video game style adventure as Raya and Sisu meet some quirky sidekicks for their squad along the way; Boun (Izaac Chung), the affable young owner of a boat restaurant named Shrimporium, Tong (Benedict Wong), a loveable warrior giant from Spine and Noi (Thalia Tran), a quick-witted con artist toddler with her three monkeys aka the Ongis from Talon. Let's not forget Tuk Tuk, Raya's beloved best friend, who is a mix of an armadillo and a pill bug subbing as a literal travel mode.

What's especially endearing about the exquisite pallete of characters we witness in Raya and the Last Dragon is not just their diversity but the commonality when it comes to their end goals; bringing back the precious ones lost, similar to the plotline of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. There was the criticism of hiring a dominantly East Asian cast when the story is primarily Southeast Asian but if you choose to overlook it, the strongest element is the voice ensemble. After the travesty which was Rose Tico from the Star Wars franchise, Raya and the Last Dragon feels like a consolation prize from Disney to Kelly Marie and nonetheless, Tran breathes such youthful life into Raya as the rebellious Disney princess, who fights hard and thankfully is sans a love interest. Equally admirable is the anti-hero in Gemma's Namaari, who realistically plays the misunderstood bad girl with not so cruel intentions. As expected, packing the humorous punch with innocent wit is Awkwafina as Sisu, who feels more like a millennial teenager than a raging dragon we're used to seeing in classics like Game of Thrones. While the jokes dealt with are borderline tacky, Awkwafina induces her signature brand of comedic charm to interlace honesty and trust between Sisu and Raya.

Enough can't be said about the hard work put into the authenticity with each tribe as we travel through Tatooine inspired desert landscapes to the greenery-laced tribute spot for the stoic dragons with modern architecture thrust into Fang while Stoney aspects are filtered into Tail and Spine (Frozen inspired) depicting the silent massacre caused at the hands of Druun. However, it's Heart where rich heritage most excels at and it's the detailing to the smallest of traditions, which have been given justice to by the diverse writing team and directors Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada. Moreover, music has also been given the delicate touch by James Newton Howard with Jhené Aiko's Lead The Way as the perfect end-credits anthem.

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Raya and the Last Dragon is an enriching tale with lessons to be learnt on how humans can be their own worst enemies; something we're clearly seeing happening in real life. However, with its strong conclusion, Raya and the Last Dragon also gives us hope for a bright future and we could all do wonders even with a little bit of hope.