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.