“Raya and the Last Dragon” Review: A gorgeous yet hollow film that never truly finds its feet

The new Disney release falls short of its potential.

By Justyn Frutiz, Staff Writer


Kelly Marie Tran voices Raya in Disney's latest movie, "Raya and the Last Dragon." (Photo Courtesy of Disney.)

“Raya and the Last Dragon” is a fine film with gorgeous animation, but its writing and pacing hold it back from the film it could have been.

Directed by Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada, the film follows Kelly Marie Tran as Raya, a girl assigned to protect an orb that is set to save the world. Awkwafina voices Sisu, the Last Dragon who saved the world many years ago and must do the same again. Together, they look to defeat the evil Druun, an entity that turns living things to stone, while fighting off rival tribes in the process. All this takes place within the homes of different tribes: the Heart Tribe, Fang Tribe, Tail Tribe, Spine Tribe and Talon Tribe.

The cinematography and animation in this film is absolutely stunning. The set pieces and designs in this movie were full of life and colors were well used. Characters were full of detail and it shows in scenes like the climax for example, with emotions written on characters faces that are as expressed as well as one can recall in recent animation. The film also has a number of locations and each with its own characteristics despite the fact that, more often than not, they are reduced to mere text.

The score by James Newton Howard accompanies the film well, especially in key emotional scenes. Editing was good considering there were no glaring errors and it was cut well.

The performances for the most part were fine. Tran was the only one that truly stood out, carrying some poorly written scenes. Awkwafina had scenes where there was more to be desired but passable. The supporting cast did not have any scenes that stood out at all and were given really nothing to work with.

The problems with the movie really lie in the writing and pacing. The pacing had the movie moving at breakneck speeds and never gave anything time to develop. For instance, five tribes have something Raya wants, but the film spends as little time as possible with each. The writing at times felt too on the nose and tried to cheat its way into earning emotional scenes. Key relationships are given no time to breathe and when key moments happen the impact is nonexistent. Characters felt underdeveloped and one dimensional. The antagonists in particular are egregious in this department, as decisions their characters made were for the sole purpose of pushing the plot. If given more time this could have been a complex and fun story but what was produced was dull and one note.

While not providing a lot in the story department, “Raya and the Last Dragon” visuals do enough to make it a passable film.

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