“Raya and the Last Dragon” has arrived from Walt Disney Studios. The film is nothing short of an ecstasy of prisms. It is a true escape and will satisfy audiences of every age.
Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) is a guardian in training. Her land of Kumandra has been ravaged by the plague. As a result, dragons have gone extinct and people have become tribal, splintered into warring factions. Dragons used to provide water and food throughout the land, but plague-like leviathans brought them to an end, turning all to stone.
Chief Benja, Raya’s father (Daniel Dae Kim) believes that peace and health can be restored if people work together for the common good. In an elaborate ceremony reminiscent of “Avatar” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” he puts Raya in charge of guarding the dragon stone responsible for Kumandra’s equilibrium, albeit tenuous.
This plot has striking emotional power given that we are still in a pandemic. Secondly, the concept of a divided land cannot fail but bring to mind our own divisive nation. When Raya laments this sadness, she speaks for all of us and ceases to be a figure of animation.
Chief Benja organizes a peace summit and Raya is surprised to see Namaari (Gemma Chan), the young daughter of a warring faction, offer friendship. But just when the two conclude lunch Namaari draws her sword and attempts to steal the stone. A kind of Apocalypse ensues.
The striking thing is that although these roles are animated, the spirit behind them is one hundred percent human. One roots for these characters and your heart will soar.
All of the characters have charge, but Awkwafina as a shape-shifting hero with a wild cackle and psychedelic hair may have delivered her best role.
Also excellent is Noi, a mercenary toddler. Even this minor role has pathos and is far from ridiculous.
Humorous it is to see this infant thrust a dragon stone in the face of a purple plague-demon with the force of an exorcist, but Noi shows that he is as human as anyone, missing his parents.
In true Disney fashion, the concepts of diversity, altruism and the joy of cooperation is championed here yet again, but behind the wide, sloping overly large. eyes one finds a new joyful pantheistic attitude as hinted at in the spectacular “Coco” from 2017.
Though the ideas of love, locomotion and family are Disney’s hallowed ground, seeing both magical creature and human bond together to fight an angry plague is quenching and cathartic in the face of our own pains of survival.
The free explosion of color alone is testament to the ritualistic force of the Saturday Matinee and the reason why it is so charge-giving to physically go to a movie on the big screen.
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