Cert – PG, Run-time – 1 hour 47 minutes, Directors – Carlos López Estrada, Don Hall
Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) has spent years trying to find the last dragon, Sisu (Awkwafina), in the hope of reassembling a gem that will remove the threat of the consuming force of the Druun.
In the past Disney have delved into the realms of Sherlock Holmes style characters (Basil The Great Mouse Detective), dark(ish) 80’s family fantasy (The Black Cauldron) and even explored video games (Wreck-It-Ralph). It’s surprising to think that it’s taken the studio 60 films, and 84 years, to create a piece with a truly adventurous exploration core to it. Their latest hero, Raya (Kelly Marie Tran), captures such spirit as she scours the South East Asian inspired regions of Kumandra for the last surviving dragon, Sisu (Awkwafina). There’s a richness to both the design and the animation of the various landscapes that we visit throughout the piece, whether sea-side markets or trap-laden caverns Raya acts as a fighting presence potentially amongst explorer ranks such as Lara Croft and Indiana Jones, above the likes of Dora (even in The Lost City Of Gold) with her higher degree of age-based universality.
Raya, alongside her ‘furrbug’ – an adorable hamster-armadillo hybrid – named TukTuk (Alan Tudyk), searches for Sisu in the hope of igniting the power within the shattered sections of a gem which once helped to ward off the purple-black fog-like force of the Drunn. Humans and dragons once lived in harmony in Kumandra, however when all but one dragon used their powers to create the gemstone – which now resides in secured pieces in the individual lands of each of Kumandra’s divided tribes. With the gemstone, and peace alongside it, broken, the Druun returns; enveloping whoever may be near it and turning them into a solid stone statue. Much of this detail is explained the build-up and exposition of the initial half hour of the run-time. It’s once the delightful Awkwafina arrives that the ball truly begins to get rolling.
For starters, there’s less reliance on comedic asides. While TukTuk is a strong character who may very well shift a lot of merchandise – and rightly so! – there are a great deal of moments in the early stages of the film where after the main action of the scene there’s a quick cut to him at the end of the scene for comic relief before moving on. Once we’re introduced to Sisu the comedic beats come more naturally in the form of dialogue while the plot progresses with more ease. The adventure form may be somewhat simplistic as we go from area to area in the dragon-shaped land, however writers Adele Lim and Qui Nguyen manage to avoid an episodic feeling, especially with the unique feel to each tribe’s area – all contributing to the overall feeling of the piece, which is held in place fairly well throughout.
If there’s one major element lacking from this piece it’s that of an opportunity to be able to see it on the big screen. Like many of Disney Animation Studios recent ventures this is a film made to be relished on the big screen, especially with, amongst the detail, the hints of action that come with the exploration of the world that is created. And while this works well on the small screen and certainly still has an impact; Raya is every bit as much of a triumphant character as she could possibly be and the films messages of unity and trust are made perfectly clear as the narrative develops, the command for something large to view this on. Yet, it speaks to how much of an engaging and enjoyable adventure Raya And The Last Dragon is that it works as well as it does on the small screen. Perhaps it’s down to the world that the brave and heartful central characters find themselves in, perhaps its such figures themselves. Whatever it might be there’s a lot to like about this particular Disney feature. It has their conventional markings, while also having a slightly different, more adventurous, feel to some of their previous efforts, with Tran’s Raya continuing their growing line of strong, engaging, female characters.
Kumandra serves for a world as detailed as the animation that brings to life the delightful characters at the heart of Raya And The Last Dragon’s other exploration of trust.