New York International Children’s Film Festival
I know, I know. I am a little late to the Raya and the Last Dragon party. Sorry. Haha! But I do know there are a bunch of people who have not seen it yet as well so this review is for you! Currently, Raya and the Last Dragon is available to view on Disney+ through their premier access, but I was able to screen it during the New York International Children’s Film Festival as well as participate in a Q/A with the Directors, Producers, Writers, and Raya herself, Kelly Marie Tran. So, here is my Raya and the Last Dragon NYICFF Movie Review!
I am divided over the movie and have a lot of thoughts about different aspects of Raya and the Last Dragon so I am going to separate my thoughts into sections.
I have to hand it to Disney. They know how to animate a movie. Haha! During our Q/A we learned that 400+ people working on Raya and the Last Dragon worked from home. Even while working from home they were able to create, probably the best and most realistic, animated movie to date. Raya and the Last Dragon is absolutely stunning. Water is very hard to get right. In Moana, Disney did a fantastic job, but the water animation in Raya and the Last Dragon is on another level. (Practice makes perfect. Haha!) I sat in awe throughout the whole movie because of the animation. It is a masterpiece.
There will be some people who completely disagree with me on this, but unfortunately, I feel the story for Raya and the Last Dragon is slightly disappointing. It is a classic Disney movie and seems like a rehash of other Disney stories. You have the good guy, the funny sidekicks, the evil that is threatening the world and needs to be destroyed, and the happy ending. Because of this, the story for Raya and the Last Dragon is very predictable.
Does that mean it’s not heartfelt, sometimes funny, and offers lessons to be learned? No. There are many times in the movie I teared up slightly because of the story, and I really liked how Raya and other characters learning to trust others is a big part of the movie. Trust is an important and hard lesson to learn, and I thought it was fantastic that you could see the progression of trust for Raya through the food in the movie. (Raya went from eating her jerky alone to helping make meals with her new friends.) Is the movie as funny as some other Disney movies? No, and actually I found Raya and the Last Dragon to be a little heavier/darker than other animated Disney movies, but it does have some funny parts.
Some characters in Raya and the Last Dragon are amazing, and some I feel were not used to their full potential. Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) is an amazing character. She is smart, strong, caring, and open to learning from others. She is a Disney Princess I would love my daughters to look up to. I think Disney and Kelly Marie Tran nailed her character.
On the other hand, I really wanted to love Sisu (Awkwafina), but I felt there was something missing with her character. They tried to make Sisu the funny sidekick (like the Genie was to Aladdin), but many of the jokes or the way they were delivered fell flat to me. (During the Q/A we also learned many of the Voice talents worked from home in makeshift recording booths so it is possible this impacted performances.) Personally, I found the characters of Noi (Con Baby) and her animal companions to be funnier than Sisu. (Sorry!)
Overall though I enjoyed Raya and the Last Dragon, and give the movie a solid A. While I feel Raya and the Last Dragon is not as polished as other Disney movies I am in awe of what the animators, writers, actors, and everyone who worked on the movie were able to do/produce at home. And while it may not be my favorite movie that showed at NYICFF it is my 5-year-old daughter’s favorite, and she has asked to watch it every day since she first saw it. (Thank goodness I have Raya and the Last Dragon Activity Sheets HERE. They have been keeping her busy. Haha!)
Is the movie ok for Kids?
Yes, and no. My 3-year-old was very scared of the Druun, and because of this she did not watch half of the movie. So, if you have kids who are sensitive, like my 3-year-old, then Raya and the Last Dragon may not be for them. Otherwise, the movie is good for all ages.
Long ago, in the fantasy world of Kumandra, humans and dragons lived together in harmony. But when sinister monsters known as the Druun threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, 500 years later, those same monsters have returned and it’s up to a lone warrior, Raya, to track down the last dragon in order to finally stop the Druun for good. However, along her journey, she’ll learn that it’ll take more than dragon magic to save the world—it’s going to take trust as well. From directors Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada, co-directors Paul Briggs and John Ripa, producers Osnat Shurer and Peter Del Vecho, and featuring the voices of Kelly Marie Tran as Raya and Awkwafina as Sisu.