I grew up watching Disney movies. I was one of the millions of people who could not get “Let It Go” out of my head when Frozen came out. I have so many Disney items, more than I know what to do with. So when I saw the trailer for Raya and the Last Dragon, I was excited. It looked almost like a more badass version of Mulan.
But then I saw the movie.
There were aspects that were fantastic – like the animation, my God, was it beautiful – but there were several issues I felt that rose up within me, and I needed to get my thoughts out on paper. I understand the good reviews for this film, but I’m here to say that, at least to me, Raya and the Last Dragon felt adequately average, and these are the reasons why.
The “Modern Talk” Took Me Out Of The Element
I’m not looking for a Game of Thrones-style kind of talking, you know? This is a kid's movie. I understand that there are phrases that, if said like the time period they were going for, would be confusing. But then I think of modern Disney films, and how all of those took place in a world that was far before our present one. Yet they talked pretty normally, still keeping up the act that they were in another world with simple key items, like using carriages or things like that.
But in this, I didn’t feel that. One of Sisu’s first lines in this movie is about group projects and how she’s the one that gets credit even though she didn’t do anything, but this is an ancient world. There are no group projects.
I understand that it’s supposed to be a funny joke but to me, it really took me out of the element. I can’t think of another Disney movie that has a joke like that which doesn’t seem to fit the narrative whatsoever. And it’s not one moment – it’s multiple throughout the film.
The Characters Were Underdeveloped
I’ve always liked the story of different worlds coming together to fight a bigger threat. That was one of the main draws of Game of Thrones to me. But in this, I felt like the characters hadn’t changed at all by the end of this movie.
The only ones that I could see having some sort of change would be Raya and Namaari, whom I guessed learn to trust each other in the end. But the other characters I feel weren’t expanded on. Even in Frozen we really got to understand the origins of Olaf and Kristoff and all the side-characters, but in this, there was really no backstory. Like why the heck was a baby running around doing cons? A baby doesn’t just get up and decide to do cons once their parents are turned to stone. There has to be some story to that.
Either way, there could have been more done with the characters. I liked them all in their individual moments, but I feel like there’s so much more story to tell.
The Main Conflict Felt Resolved Too Easily
The premise of the story is great - unite the stone, save the world. Yet, it feels like their victories come way too easily. I mean, getting that piece from Spine felt almost like child’s play because there was no one there as everyone had turned to stone except for one man who just happened to lose his family to the Druune. That’s awfully convenient.
There were so many moments where the stakes could have been higher but because this is supposed to be a shorter film, everything felt a little too simple.
For example, I understand that they worship Sisu, but would Namaari really offer up that piece of stone just like that in a time of war when she knew there was a chance that Fang could hold all the power? I feel like that would have made her story a bit more compelling to see that struggle more clearly prior to this meeting, instead of her seemingly making a last-minute decision when she sees those orb pieces in Raya’s bag.
Sisu’s Character Was Almost Too Kiddish
I did not like Sisu.
While I do encourage Disney to do more movies like this where the proper representation is used so that way kids have someone to look up to, I did not like Awkwafina in this role. She has been amazing in some other films, like The Farewell and Crazy Rich Asians, but there was something about her portrayal of Sisu that did not stick with me.
It felt like she was almost trying to make Sisu into another version of the Genie from Aladdin where she cracks jokes constantly, but to me, that fell flat. I already mentioned the group project joke earlier on but there’s this one running gag where she keeps saying how good of a swimmer she is. I get that it’s supposed to be like “alright, we get it, har har” but to me, it just felt annoying.
When I think of Disney movies, I think of sidekicks that parents can connect with as well. My father loves the Genie. My mother loves Mushu from Mulan. Heck, I even loved Olaf and the horse from Tangled because sometimes the way they spoke and acted had adult humor in ways only adults would understand. Even the way Olaf said, “Oh look, I’ve been impaled,” makes me laugh because what child would know what that means? None. But adults know, and the casual way in which he says it makes it even funnier.
With Sisu, I don’t see that at all. I feel like Awkwafina tried her best truly to make her stand out, but many of the jokes feel entirely catered to making young kids laugh. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but considering the standard of sidekicks that Disney has made over the years, I don’t feel the same way.
Raya Is Almost Too Mistrusting Of The World
I understand why Raya would be that way. Really, I do. If I had lost my father in that same circumstance, I would be traveling all over the world to somehow find a solution as well.
But in this case, Sisu is so right. Yes, the world is mistrusting, but why not give it a chance to see if other people want to help, too? Raya acts like she’s the only one who cares about reuniting the stones and she thinks no one will give it up without a fight. Why can’t she think for one moment and wonder ‘Huh, maybe other people have lost their families, too, and would be willing to help me without a fight.’
We do see this happen a bit when she faces Namaari near the end of the film. There's a point where she's willing to give a peace offering, but it’s only at the climax where we really start to see her take a step back and maybe think of trusting people. It doesn’t feel earned – it feels rushed. I’d want all the help I could get if I was in her situation – and that means trusting others.
The Ending Feels Rushed
The ending is sweet. I’ll give it that. It’s the typical Disney ending that you would come to expect, but it doesn’t sit right with me. I feel like the world wouldn’t come back together just like that. It would take some serious healing to reach that point again. It’s been broken for so long and you’re saying just because the dragons reappeared, everything goes back to being hunky-dory?
I hate to reference it again, but even in Frozen, there was so much time and conflict leading up to that ending where it feels earned. It feels like it was meant to be there after the heartbreak and the sorrow that all of the characters had gone through. But with this, everything feels resolved so quickly - even when they are all stone people, it resolves itself so fast. Within minutes, the world is perfect again, reuniting under the name Kumandra once more.
I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but there have been much better endings in Disney.
I liked this movie. The animation was stunning, most of the voice actors were great and the world-building was fantastic. But that doesn’t mean it’s not without fault. I do think it could have been better than what was given. If I had the choice to watch it again, I probably would for the animation alone, but it’s certainly not on my favorites list.
But if Raya and the Last Dragon is perfect for you, then awesome. I’m glad you found that film that makes you happy. I’ll stick to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, thank you.