By James H. Carter II
RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON, the latest film from Walt Disney Animation Studios, has arrived and it does not disappoint! Featuring a Mad Max/Indiana Jones-feel combined with mystical magic and martial arts, RAYA AND THE DRAGON is definitely not your typical Disney Princess Film.
RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON takes place in a realm known as Kumandra, re-imagined earth inhabited by an ancient civilization, where a warrior named Raya is on a quest to track down the last known surviving dragon, Sisu. In finding Sisu, Raya's hope is that Sisu will be able to locate the broken pieces of a magical orb which once housed Druuns, an evil entity that has turned the majority of the people in Kumandra into stone.
The film features stunning photo-realistic animation, which goes to show how far the animators at Disney can push the art form forward. To juxtapose the realism of the time period, flashback scenes were done in an animation style that was highly texturized to give it a fabric look. The contrast reminded me of what the animators did in Into the Spiderverse, as they also used different styles to not only engage the viewer but also to enhance the storytelling. The fight scenes in RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON are some of the most intense ever seen in a Disney animated film, and I would go so far as to say that they rival the intensity and entertainment value seen in live-action action or kung-fu movies that feature hand-to-hand combat.
The score was a great mixture of fantasy, adventure, and 80’s synth. It is important to note that beyond the score, there is no music to be found. Over the decades, Disney animated films have produced some of the greatest songs of all time, but I prefer when characters in films don’t randomly break out into song. The fact that Raya isn’t a musical helped to keep me engaged with the story, so I was very appreciative that the filmmakers decided to go this route.
I can't end this review without mentioning the creepy star of the film: the Druun. This collection of evil spirits have a penchant for turning all living creatures into stone upon contact while appearing as menacing purple smoke that looks like it came right out of the Upside Down from Stranger Things. The Druun’s menacing presence throughout the film provides a dark and creepy feeling of constant dread and despair.
The film is available to watch on the Disney+ streaming service for an up-charge of $29.99 on top of the monthly subscription fee. Personally, I think it is worth the price. Obviously watching a film in your home is not the same experience as watching in the theater but with average ticket prices being around $15/person to just watch the film once at the theater, it's worth it to invest $15 more and have the ability to watch the film multiple times either by yourself or with the family. Beyond economics, RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON is a high-quality, extremely entertaining, visually stunning film with enough creepiness to satisfy those who love the darker side of Disney.