raya and the last dragon

Stars: 3/5

Throughout the 2010’s, Walt Disney Animation Studios has relentlessly released film after film with titles like "Frozen," "Big Hero 6" and "Moana" becoming instant household classics. Almost all of them are enjoyable, some more so than others, but one cannot deny how deeply derivative they are of one another.

A fantastical land, a mysterious power, a regal hero, smirking sidekick, the death of a family member, a quest for MacGuffins, a mindless antagonistic presence and gorgeous animation. All of these elements compose the tried-and-true Disney formula of moviemaking. It’s worked for decades, but the cracks are finally starting to show in "Raya and the Last Dragon."

Set in the mythical land of Kumandra, dragons and humans used to live together in prosperity. Then everything changed when the Druun attacked. Born out of human discord, these evil spirits began to ravage the world until the dragons sacrificed themselves in an effort to save humanity. Five hundred years later, the world is broken, separated into five kingdoms who all despise and distrust one another. Now, enter Raya (Kelly Marie Tran), a loner and disgraced princess of the Heart Kingdom, who is on a quest to locate the titular last dragon, Sisu (Awkwafina). Together, they will be able to reunite and restore balance to the mythical land.

Sounds familiar?

Yeah, I bet it does.

I mean, look. I did not hate this movie because there is so much to love and appreciate. For starters, it is absolutely stunning and impressively crafted with all the textures, fabrics, facial expressions and even the sky looking immaculate as ever. The world-building is extraordinary too. Each location and action set-piece are all beautiful and infused with Southeast Asian representation which is a major plus in my book. Additionally, the stylish direction and editing give the film a fast-paced, frenetic Guy Ritchie-esque sensibility. Oh, and James Newton Howard’s score is simply incredible to behold.

Everything that is visually and audibly presented is amazing, but the story just makes none of it feel unique. "Raya and the Last Dragon" moves from scene to scene with each character delivering stilted, expository dialogue necessary to the plot. There’s loads of improvised comedy (courtesy of Awkwafina) and some surprising personality in the line delivery, but it’s nothing special. The story is about as predictable as you can get with a Disney movie which is not necessarily a negative because I tend to care more about the journey itself rather than the destination. However, I knew exactly where this movie was going by the ten-minute mark. It deemed my experience with Raya, Sisu and squad of other bizarre misfits to be duller than I envisioned it being.

Overall, "Raya and the Last Dragon" is a fun, flawed Disney movie. If you can look past the blatant unoriginality, then you’ll probably have a good time with it. I enjoyed myself watching it, but it is definitely a film I could have skipped.

Also, if you do see this movie, see it in theaters. Don’t play $29.99 for it on Disney+ because that is just ridiculous.

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