Raya and the last dragon provides a reminder of how quietly and efficiently Disney managed its animated properties.
For a while around the turn of the millennium, the company seemed struggling to define its place among younger and hungrier animation studios like Pixar or Dreamworks. The company responded by pushing away from the princess-centric films like The little mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas and Mulan that had anchored their Renaissance edition and turned a lot: first to animated films aimed at boys like her Atlantis and The treasure planetand then to computer-animated adventures like Little chicken, Meet the Robinsons and bolt.
By the end of the decade, however, the company was likely to regain its footing with a wave of somewhat traditionalist stories. The princess and the frog Often viewed as the end of an era of hand-drawn animation, it also marks a rejuvenation of the classic “Princess” Movie. It followed Tangled, Frozen, Moana and Frozen II, all of which were computer animated, are taking on a familiar Disney archetype.
Raya and the last dragon is a reminder of how sturdy the old one is “Princess” The template film demonstrates the hard work the company has put into keeping its oldest archetype both resonant and recognizable.
On the surface, Raya and the last dragon is very much a “Adventure” Movie. The core plot focuses on the title character, who travels through a vast fantasy landscape to restore and reassemble a broken mystical artifact. As such, Raya is perhaps more dynamic and proactive than classic princesses like the ones in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella. However, this format shift is possibly the biggest overhaul Disney has made to this classic and archetypal structure.
Raya and the last dragon It presents the title character as a wandering gunslinger from a western or swordsman from a samurai film. The audience is introduced to Raya, who rides through the desert on the back of her lovable armadillo Tuk Tuk. She is a bandit and a refugee. Your opening narrative frames the story in these terms. “A lonely rider” she tells the audience. “A dystopian world. A land that has been wasted. How did this world get so broken? “ Even in flashbacks to her childhood, the figure is framed as an action heroine. Your establishing scene is remembered Hunter of the lost treasure.
Despite the subtle shift in genre Raya and the last dragon is a surprisingly traditional film in terms of narrative. Indeed, Raya and the last dragon is not apologetic for his embrace of the traps of this type of tale. Raya is not straight As a warrior, she is explicitly identified as a “Princess of the Heart.” In Tuk Tuk, she’s made an adorable anthropomorphic animal companion like Pegasus Hercules or Abu out Aladdin. The first act of the film shows the parental separation typical of films Bambi or The Lion King.
Even the casting of Awkwafina as the cheeky and playful dragon Sisu seems to stem from the tradition of casting strong, fast-speaking comedic actors in supporting roles. Awkwafina joins a rich tradition of comedic Disney supporters, which includes Robin Williams Aladdin, Eddie Murphy in Mulan and Danny DeVito in Hercules. Despite the fact that Awkwafina is a very young and modern comedian, it helps that her singing style feels more like an eighties comedian like Joan Rivers.
While Raya and the last dragon is fun and playful, it largely avoids the irony and confidence that haunt so much of contemporary animated cinema. It’s a far more traditional family movie than something like that Tom and Jerryand pretty smart. Most of the jokes come from the characters and the humor feels organic to the world. Raya and the last dragon takes itself and its audience relatively seriously and trusts itself enough to tell a gripping story without covering itself defensively with winking and knowing humor.
Although the film marks a departure from current films as such Frozen or Moana Since it doesn’t hold large production numbers, it does hold a soaring score from James Newton Howard. Howard’s score reflects the sensitivity of the film. It’s soaring and serious, peppy and sincere. That never makes sense Raya and the last dragon is ashamed to be a well-made animated film that matches the tried and true Disney template. At a time when so much is changing, it is strangely comforting to distribute movies like this yourself.
As such, it’s a remarkable demonstration of how robust the template is and how easy it was for Disney to update one of their most iconic and archetypal storytelling templates for the 21st century. There are no doubt cultural references to this position Raya and the last dragon as a 2021 production, as Sisu’s reference to Boun as “Cap’n Pop ‘n’ Lock”but the film doesn’t feel radically disconnected or out of place from earlier examples of form. Instead like Tangled and Frozen before that it feels like a clever and subtle update of a familiar template.
One of the more subtle and interesting features of these recent revisions to the genre is the way they put these updated fairy tale stories in an explicitly modern context. Both Moana and Frozen II stories were very preoccupied with the moment around them. Specifically, Frozen II offered a surprisingly timely meditation on how best to deal with prosperity based on generations of exploitation and abuse, an interrogation of imperialism and colonialism that served as an interesting companion piece THOR: Ragnarok.
Raya and the last dragon is very aware of the context in which it exists. How many contemporary family films, including Trolls World Tour and Wonder Woman 1984the film plays largely as an appeal to unity and reconciliation. This makes sense in the context of the past few years as the United States has become increasingly broken and divided. The starting point of Raya and the last dragon is that what was once so great a country has been torn to pieces by distrust and violence.
To his credit Raya and the last dragon Do not shy away from this topic. Perhaps because the film’s ambiguous East Asian setting and mythology provides a cloak, Raya and the last dragon deals very directly with the realities of recent years in American politics. Raya explains that things fell apart when “Limits have been drawn.” The idea of child separation is a major recurring thematic motif, as characters like Boun, Little Noi, and even Raya themselves are separated from their parents. The monstrous Druun are specifically described as “A plague borne by human discord.”
This is a touchy subject, especially in the context of a family movie. It’s easy to be frivolous about the chaos of the past few years. Appeals for unity and reconciliation often feel like they come from a place of privilege, from those who have the luxury of treating family segregation or minority rights like a bizarre sporting event. These appeals to unity and reconciliation can also seem hopelessly naive and sometimes fail to acknowledge it “The cruelty is the point.” There is also a tendency to indulge in nostalgia, treat this disorder as an aberration, and romanticize the past.
This was part of the problem with films like Trolls World Tour and Wonder Woman 1984. It’s thanks to Raya and the last dragon that the film deals with the topic more gracefully. There are moments when the film threatens to lapse into nostalgia. This is most notable when Raya’s opening narrative paints an idealized picture of what life was like before the disorder. “That’s how we used to be” She explains. “When our country was whole and we lived harmoniously next to each other.” She says “It was paradise.”
A lot of Raya and the last dragon is caught in the push-and-pull between Raya and Sisu. Raya suffered a terrible betrayal in her past that had dire consequences. This has understandably made them paranoid and skeptical of others. In contrast, Sisu believes in the importance of trust and belief. “The world is broken” Raya says. “Nobody trusts anyone.” Sisu counter, “Maybe the world is broken because nobody trusts anyone. “
It’s thanks to Raya and the last dragon that the film never rejects Raya’s distrust and skepticism. Repeatedly, the film shows the folly of trusting others who may not be acting in good faith. Sisu’s eagerness to trust other people traps her and Raya and almost kills them. In the few instances where Raya takes a leap in confidence, she learns that trust can be exploited like a weapon by a cruel and cynical opponent.
It is a much more informed and realistic study of the collapse of the social contract than Trolls World Tour or Wonder Woman 1984that it is ready to recognize that many civic disturbances are caused by people who have no interest in social cohesion or the common good – that self-interest makes collaboration difficult, and that mere hoping for the best is not a winning strategy in itself surprisingly nuanced sketch of the current moment than one might expect from an animated adventure film for children.
Of course, this nuance creates problems for itself, especially at the climax of the film. Towards the end of the film, Raya was betrayed over and over again to bring peace to the empire and betrayed one final time by an old enemy. The climax, however, requires Raya to take a leap of faith and trust the person who betrayed her repeated. It’s a fitting and optimistic ending to this story, but it never feels entirely deserved. It’s a small scam, but a necessary one in order to resolve the story the way it needs to be resolved.
There are other minor issues with Raya and the last dragon. Because of its adventure film structure, the plot is essentially a gigantic search quest. Raya must travel to the five areas scattered across the kingdom to reassemble a broken artifact. While this allows for a nice variety of set pieces and offers the opportunity to showcase a variety of designs, it feels a little episodic and unstructured. Raya’s progress through the narrative doesn’t feel linear or organic, but moves in fits and starts.
This is a minor recurring structural problem with these revised ones “Princess” Movies, especially with Moana. The film can at times feel more like a collection of individual scenes and set pieces than a single coherent narrative. This is largely due to the major structural changes to the template that make the main character more dynamic and proactive. It takes a lot of exposure and world building, which isn’t always particularly elegant.
However, these set pieces and scenes mostly work for themselves. While Raya and the last dragon avoids the kind of music numbers associated with these films. Instead, the film is a little visually playful. At certain points, directors Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada switch to beautiful, old-fashioned two-dimensional animations for flashbacks or imaginary sequences. In other places the film experiments with split screen in the style of East Asian action cinema. While Raya and the last dragon it could be More if you are adventurous, this playfulness is welcome.
Raya and the last dragon also benefits from an enormous cast. The film shows charming vocal performances by actors like Daniel Dae Kim and Benedict Wong, but is anchored in the central duo of Kelly Marie Tran as Raya and Awkwafina as Sisu. The couple bounce off each other wonderfully and bring contrasting and complementary energy to the film. Raya is a surprisingly compelling protagonist who is perhaps more understandable and understandable than many of her contemporaries, which is in large part due to Trans work in the role.
Raya and the last dragon is a charming old-fashioned animated story, but one that shows how well this narrative template endures. There are many interesting things to be said about the world it exists in. Though a little too episodic at times, and the tempo suffers from time to time, it’s a beautifully made and lovably serious addition to the Disney animated canon.