The 400-Word Review: Raya and the Last Dragon
By Sean Collier
March 5, 2021
A pair of nouns separate the title of “Raya and the Last Dragon” from that of one of its most direct forebears, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” A direct reference in the middle of the film — Raya gingerly removes a treasure from a booby-trapped spot, recalling the opening of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” — makes the connection undeniable.
Unfortunately, the fun — and focus — of Spielbergian romps is muscled out of “Raya and the Last Dragon” in favor of endless exposition. We’ve got an ancient race of dragons, a formless monster, a kingdom split into five distrustful nations, political squabbling, nuanced mythology, a decade-plus timeline jump and a dozen side characters (many with recognizable voice actors) all itching for their moment to shine.
With all that, who has time for fun?
Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) is trying to fix the mess. As a child, she watched as her father’s (Daniel Dae Kim) attempt at international unity flopped; a summit between nations descended into violence and destroyed some ancient magic, allowing the movie’s big bad, a black stormcloud with the power to turn living creatures into stone, to wreak havoc. Her father was petrified in the process — it wouldn’t be a Disney movie without a lifeless parent — and, decades later, Raya is searching for a way to undo the damage.
That involves waking up a dragon. Raya is a self-proclaimed “nerd” for the creatures, who sacrificed themselves to protect humans from the forces of evil centuries ago; she’s got a line on the hiding spot of one, though, and a way to resurrect it. The friendly beast comes back to life, sporting the voice of Awkwafina and 21st-century irreverence. “I’m gonna be real with you,” she says. “I’m not, like, the best dragon, you know?”
It’s not, like, the best movie, either. Disney has of late decided that beauty can stand in for true enchantment; last year’s “Mulan,” to name one example, was visually dazzling but narratively flat. Similarly, “Raya and the Last Dragon” can’t keep its thoughts straight, constantly poking at its own story while nodding toward a larger trust-versus-protectionism theme.
Should’ve stuck with ripping Indy off. The movie crosses the finish line on the strength of its cast, style and music; you won’t have a bad time. Don’t expect a tie-in theme park ride, though. It’d likely be all line and few thrills.
My Rating: 6/10
“Raya and the Last Dragon” is available, for an additional fee, through Disney+.