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RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON (2021) – My rating: 9.5/10

Promotional release poster of Raya and the Last Dragon depicting Raya and Sisu along with other people in Kumandra

Raya and the Last Dragon (/ˈr.ə/ RYE-ə) is a computer-animated fantasy adventure produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios. The 59th film produced by the studio, it is directed by Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada and is based on traditional Southeast Asian cultures. It was written by Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim. Raya and the Last Dragon follows a warrior princess who is in search of the fabled last dragon, with hopes of restoring the land of Kumandra and the dragons that use to watch over them.

Five hundred years ago, the peaceful and prosperous sub-continent of Kumandra is ravaged by the Druun, evil, dark-colored spirits that petrify, turning every living thing in its path to stone. Sisu (voice: Awkwafina), the last surviving dragon, concentrates her magic into a gem and blasts the Druun away, reviving Kumandra’s people but not the dragons, who remained stone. A power struggle for the gem divides Kumandra’s people into five separate kingdoms called Fang, Heart, Spine, Talon, and Tail, corresponding to their placement along a gigantic dragon-shaped river.

Five hundred years later, Chief Benja (voice: Daniel Dae Kim) of the Heart tribe, which ends up retaining possession of the dragon gem, trains his daughter, young warrior Princess Raya (voice:  Kelly Marie Tran) to protect the gem. Firmly believing Kumandra can be reunited, Benja holds a feast for the leadership of all five tribes. During the feast, Raya befriends Namaari (Gemma Chan), daughter of Chief Virana (Sandra Oh) of the Fang tribe and Fang’s princess, who gives Raya a dragon pendant and tells her of a legend that says the dragon Sisu still exists and can be summoned. Trusting Namaari, Raya shows her the chamber where the gem is kept. Namaari betrays Raya as part of a plot to help the Fang tribe steal the gem. Alerted to the attack, Chief Benja and the other tribes arrive and start fighting over the gem, breaking it into five pieces in the scuffle. The gem’s destruction creates a fissure that releases the Druun once again, quickly overtaking the Land of Heart. As every tribe member steals a piece of the gem and flees, Chief Benja notices that the Druun are repelled by water and sacrifices himself to save Raya’s life by throwing her in the river before getting petrified/turned to stone by the Druun. Six years later, Raya treks across Kumandra searching for Sisu to have her create another gem and banish the Druun once more. She manages to summon her at a shipwreck in Tail where Sisu admits that she did not create the gem, but wielded it on behalf of her four siblings, who each contributed their magic to the gem. Raya and Sisu resolve to take back the four stolen pieces of the gem, reassemble it and use it to banish the Druun and restore Raya’s father and others who were petrified/turned to stone.

This is where I must stop because this story is so profound and the journey is so exciting, I wouldn’t want to spoil a second of it for anyone.  Out of all the animated features, Raya and the Last Dragon is my favorite.  It is suspenseful, mysterious, and it has Awkwafina, who brings character, humor, and fun to the film.  I felt as though I was right there with them, fighting and searching for the pieces of the gem needed to assemble it back together.  From this point on, Raya and Sisu and many other characters (old and new) join the adventure as they learn, love, hate, fight, resolve and restore their land.  This film is truly worth seeing for the whole family. Raya and the Last Dragon grossed $54.7 million in the United States and Canada and $75.7 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $130.4 million. Raya and the Last Dragon received positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports 94% of 289 critics have given the film, a positive review with an average rating of 7.60/10. The website’s consensus reads: “Another gorgeously animated, skillfully voiced entry in the Disney canon, Raya and the Last Dragon continue the studio’s increased representation while reaffirming that its classic formula is just as reliable as ever”. Raya and the Last Dragon is streaming on Disney + — Check It Out!

[RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON is Oscar-nominated at the 94th Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature Film— Totaling 1 Oscar Nomination]