A formulaic, if increasingly engaging animated fantasy adventure boasts much visual acumen in drawing much from Southeast Asian mythology.
The nutty energy, drama, and sentimentality may not coalesce very well, but co-directors Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada stage a series of eventful sequences in what might be described by some as Mulan meets How To Train your Dragon. Thought without the surprising emotional resonance of the latter.
The sacrifice of dragons to the destructive Druuns, guarding protective gems which split during an act of betrayal set up the main narrative with a realm’s five factions far from peaceful co-existence.
Tran’s willful focus will come into being with the help of Awkwafina’s amusingly offbeat, if knowing aquamarine Sisu who tells Raya “Who’s your dragon?” Chan is a mercurial, shadowy presence for Raya with a moral dilemma and a fear-based chieftain mother (H0).
Included in the wondrous images include settings of snowy mountain encampment, an Island fortress, a metropolis with stilts, a dusty desert, and a lush paradise. Oh, there’s also martial arts choreography to behold. But, the mission to reverse the dreaded Druun Derring-do includes side characters like a lonely warrior (Benedict Wong), Thalia Tram’s spunky toddler, and Alan Tudyk’s pill bug of an armadillo.
Novelty breeds familiarity and vice versa in a way as Raya and the Last Dragon displays much photorealistic splendor. Even if the enterprise can be pretty pat and unsubtle in its message of trust the overall authenticity into casting and evolution of a warrior princess is another step forward for diversity and inclusivity.
Following Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) who is charged with putting the fractured blue orb back together and bring peace to Kumandra’s five tribes who live along a dragon-shaped river. The animation of the characters and landscape is first rate, the story is nothing new.
The five tribes named Fang, Heart, Spine, Talon, and tail are fitted along the dragon shaped river in locations that fit their names on the body of a dragon. The good dragons which are shown in pastel colors were part of the peaceful society that was destroyed when the orb was broken up and allowed the evil Druun (a dark cloud like creature) to turn the dragons into pillars
similar to the pillars of salt in the Bible.
The same faith occurs to the Kumandra people if surrounded by the Druun. When Raya’s dad becomes one of the victims she becomes the key person to gather the pieces of the orb and put them together and save all the folks.
Using a two stick martial art system, based on a Filipino martial art known as Kali, she is joined by the one surviving dragon named Sisu (Awkwafina), Tuk Tuk, an animal that curls up and moves like BB-8 from Star Wars. A young boy, a baby with three followers along with a strong older man also set out with Raya to put the past back together.
Each step is a challenge but we know it will end up with Raya getting everyone together again and bringing the dragons and characters that the Druun has frozen back to life.
With a great deal of color and action, Raya and her band of heroic characters traveling through lands of beauty is attractive to watch, but it doesn’t present a very interesting story.