Movie Review: Raya and the Last Dragon

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*Spoiler Alert throughout article*
The movie starts off with a country, Kumandra, that was broken into five kingdoms when all but one of the dragons were wiped out, trying to save the humans from the Druun, a dark force, leaving only one sacred sphere of dragon magic behind. Years later, Raya and her father try to bring the kingdoms back together, but greed takes over and the fighting kingdoms break the remainder of the dragon magic, once again releasing the Druun, which turns many people to stone. Raya then goes on a quest to try and find the last dragon, Sisu, to help save the people and restore Kumandra.

The film provides plenty of adventure throughout Raya’s quest, as she’s trying to save her country from this apocalyptic looking world created by the Druun and factions. The soundtrack also did a good job in adding to the adventure, as well as more sentimental feelings for emotional scenes. When her father is turned to stone, I cried like I would with any parent’s death in a Disney movie. The overall plot of the movie seemed kind of predictable to me, which is kind of understandable given that it’s a Disney princess movie. Even still, I enjoyed watching the beautiful connections she made along the way, as well as seeing how she dealt with trusting others, and how it took time to learn to trust again.

I appreciate that one prominent theme in this movie was trust and how it can be difficult to handle at times. Considering their young audience, this is a good lesson to implement. Raya’s trust is quickly broken by Namaari at the beginning of the movie, and from then on, it’s difficult for her to lend out her trust to others. Each time Raya and Sisu encounter a new friend, she is very wary about them. I like how they showed the difficulty in learning to trust others after being burned. However, I think I would have liked to see Namaari apologize for breaking her trust. I think she should have earned Raya’s trust back, rather than Raya having to be the better person and sacrifice herself, without being healed with Namaari’s apology. Even then, I think the lesson of being a better person than how others might treat you is still a decent thing for younger audiences to learn, and is a good reminder for more mature audiences as well.

While some details can be connected to multiple Southeast Asian cultures, there are others that are more unique to one, like those of Cambodia and Vietnam. The movie gives off the impression that they’re all the same, and that they’re exactly like this movie. Each of the Southeast Asian cultures that influenced this movie still have their own individual qualities that differ from one another, and it would have been nice to see an accurate representation of one of them, rather than having them all melted together for one movie. Especially since a major target audience of the film is impressionable children, who most likely still haven’t learned about other cultures, the mixed representation of these cultures can send the wrong impression.

Seeing that there are more East Asian actors rather than Southeast Asian actors is a bit disappointing, considering the movie is based on Southeast Asian culture. It’s always best to have accurate representation.

Overall, the movie is still beautifully done and fun to watch. As long as viewers can come to understand the struggles of trusting others and the reality of diverse cultures within Southeast Asia, I think it is a great movie.

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