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Vincent Schilling

Indian Country Today

Walt Disney Animation Studios recently released “Raya and the Last Dragon,” an animated and fantasy-driven film based on the world of Kumandra and the protagonist’s epic quest to find the last dragon. Finding this dragon holds the ancestral key of sorts to reuniting the region and restoring the harmony between people and dragons.

The film stars the voice of the comedic actress Awkwafina. It also features the voices of Kelly Marie Tran (“Star Wars VIII,” “Star Wars IX”) Gemma Chan (“Captain Marvel,” “Crazy Rich Asians”) Daniel Dae Kim, (Divergent series) Sandra Oh, (“Grey’s Anatomy{) Benedict Wong, (“Doctor Strange”) and more. It was directed by Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada.

Here is my review.

“Raya and the Last Dragon”

8.0 out of 10

My quick quote: “The animation was beautiful, the storyline set in place, telling a tale of how traditions and cultures can work presently to unite us all.”

Raya and the Last Dragon (Disney+)

Synopsis: “Raya and the Last Dragon” takes us on an exciting, epic journey to the fantasy world of Kumandra, where humans and dragons lived together long ago in harmony. But when an evil force threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, 500 years later, that same evil has returned and it’s up to a lone warrior, Raya, to track down the legendary last dragon to restore the fractured land and its divided people. However, along her journey, she’ll learn that it’ll take more than a dragon to save the world—it’s going to take trust and teamwork as well.

My review: I stumbled upon “Raya and the Last Dragon” during the last episode of WandaVision on Disney+. Truth told, the poster was gorgeous and I was interested to see what it was all about.

Since I usually watch films solo, and I don’t have a couch full of family members waiting to see the latest, I reached out to Disney for a screener. The beauty of my job as a film critic and the #NativeNerd. Disney, gracious to my efforts, complied in a short time and I was off into the world of Kumandra.

I marvel at the animation of today. The film starts with Raya on a quest of sorts — to find the Last Dragon — she is riding a giant furry roly-poly amidst the deserts of Kumandra. Off the bat, I was, and am, simply amazed at the level of detail in animation today.

Though the conceptual nature of the film is deep and idealistic, the message is simple, you have to give trust, to earn trust.

Kelly Marie Tran as Raya, and Awkwafina as Sisu the dragon are hilariously interactive and share silly messages back and forth during their quest to obtain fragments of a sacred item to restore their world.

Awkwafina as Sisu the dragon and Kelly Marie Tran as Raya, are hilariously interactive. (Disney+)

At one point (you can watch it in the movie trailer) Sisu changes to a lavender-haired human girl and is excited about how close her head is to her butt, and that it would make digestion a lot easier. I was laughing my head off.

I loved all of the characters, the conniving baby and her team of thieving monkeys, the little kid who manages the boat while serving up his best culinary dishes and the lone guard fighting to uphold the defenses of his people against the evil forces living in Kumandra.

I don’t have big criticisms against this movie, though I do have thoughts. On one hand, Disney has been successful for a number of years, it has been successful due to its winning formulas of storytelling and plot trajectories. Hey, if it makes money, then I certainly understand the concept of lather, rinse, repeat to reproduce success.

So I come to a crossroads of sorts in my thought process, there is something magical about having the innocent perspective of a child, and delighting in the beautiful moments of a gorgeous film like “Raya and the Last Dragon.” How nice it is to laugh, and move forward in a story with an uplifting ending.

So there’s that. But then the adult side of me kicks in. The part of me that wants to be completely surprised during the unveiling of the story. So when I know something is going to happen, or I know that in the most real essence of the truth, there is no peril, is it possible to just become jaded? The answer is yes. So I tell myself, lighten up Vincent, and enjoy the movie.

And I did, I really enjoyed it, actually. I laughed a lot, loved the storyline, and even if there was no hydrogen bomb of a surprise, I would wholeheartedly recommend this to families who are able to drop a few more dollars for the delight of all the kids on the couch. Or in their rooms with their heads buried in their Kindles, iPads and Android or Pixel phones.

The beauty of the film was the consistently gorgeous cultural imagery combined with the one-liner quips from Awkwafina. In all of its beauty, there was a real connection to Asian culture as well as the attachment to ancient beliefs and traditions that — if they were still practiced today — could help to bring us all closer together.

And after watching this movie, I want my own dragon. 

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