Raya and the Last Dragon: Disney+ Film Review

RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON

Disney’s latest animated adventure Raya and the Last Dragon comes to Disney+ on Friday for a premium rental fee. Is it worth the extra money? I would say hell yes!

Kelly Marie Tran voices Raya, a courageous warrior who has been training to become a Guardian of the Dragon Gem alongside her father Chief Benja (Daniel Dae Kim). People in the other divided regions of the land, formerly known as Kumandra back in its united days, resent Heart for having the gem, as they believe it brings them prosperity. As a sign of goodwill, the Chief invites his enemies to Heart to help heal old wounds, but instead, they fight over the gem and smash it, unleashing the Druun, sinister monsters which turn people to stone. Raya must track down the last remaining dragon, Sisu (Awkwafina), and find and put the gem pieces back together to fight the Druun and reunite Kumandra once and for all.

Disney has set a high standard with its animated offerings in recent years and Raya and the Last Dragon is another worthy addition. My expectations were high and I still came away impressed. Sure, it doesn’t exactly break up the rulebook in terms of formula, but it works so why change it? Raya is a wonderful, charming adventure that children and adults alike should easily enjoy and, as always, it delivers a worthy message – this time, it focuses on the importance of trust and unity and how it’s better when you work together, which I thought was particularly relevant given the ever-growing divide in America these days.

It is also visually stunning and stylish, with gorgeous cinematography – some shots were so beautiful they literally made me gasp and say out loud “wow, what a shot!” – and beautiful landscapes, has some amazing fight sequences involving cool swords and wooden staffs, and an interesting-looking sidekick named Tuk Tuk (Alan Tudyk) who is a woodlouse/armadillo-type character who also serves as Raya’s mode of transportation.

Tran was perfectly cast as Raya, this fierce warrior with a heart of gold who could probably do with loosening up a little bit, which is where Sisu steps in. The dragon – which can shapeshift into a human with shaggy purple hair and oversized clothing – brings the fun and who could be better than Awkwafina and her goofy, awkward energy? She steals the show. More comedy characters join them on their journey – first, there’s Captain Boun (Izaac Wang), a 10-year-old boy from Tail who owns a boat restaurant, Little Noi (Thalia Tran), a baby con artist and her trio of animal sidekicks from Talon (they made me laugh the most), and gentle giant Tong (Benedict Wong) from Spine. I must also mention Gemma Chan as Raya’s nemesis Namaari (Gemma Chan) and her mother, Fang leader Virana (Sandra Oh), as the main human antagonists of the piece.

Disney continues to make strides with representation by setting the film in Southeast Asia and having all Asian characters voiced by a predominantly Asian-American cast. I laughed out loud often, I found the message quite touching, and generally had a great time with it.

Streaming on Disney+ with a premium rental fee from Friday 5th March. Subscribers will be able to watch for free from 4th June.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Soul: Film Review

Soul

I hold Pixar films in really high regard so I have the greatest of expectations for each new offering and while Soul is good, it doesn’t reach the lofty heights of the company’s best work.

Soul follows middle school music teacher Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx), who has long dreamed of having a career as a jazz musician. One day, he is hired to become the pianist in a band with Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett), but hours before the break he has been longing for, Joe has an accident and his soul is separated from his body. He wakes up on a conveyor belt heading to The Great Beyond, but he manages to escape and ends up in The Great Before, where souls develop their personalities and traits before being sent to Earth. He must work with souls in training, such as 22 (Tina Fey), in order to get back to his body.

I have to applaud Pete Docter and his team for taking on big themes such as life and death and what comes before and after them and presenting them visually in a way children will want to watch and creating an entertaining journey that they will enjoy and understand, even if the big concepts go over their heads. I really respected the message about appreciating life, a person’s purpose, and what gives them their spark as well as the ambition the team had for this movie – but it didn’t fully work for me. I can’t place why but at the end, I felt deflated because I was expecting more; for it to hit me in the feels or give me some sort of epiphany, but that didn’t happen. My expectations for Pixar films are just so damn high!

The voice cast is incredible. Foxx was the perfect choice for Joe and he brings so much energy and enthusiasm to the part. Fey was also excellent as 22, who is reluctant to find her spark and go to Earth, and they make a great comedy pairing. I also enjoyed Phylicia Rashad as Joe’s no-nonsense mother Libba, Bassett as the difficult to impress Dorothea, and Rachel House as Terry, a soul counter in The Great Beyond. I was surprised but thrilled to hear the voices of Graham Norton and Richard Ayoade in this, with Norton being a particular delight.

Although this isn’t one of the best Pixar films and the message might be lost on young viewers, they can still enjoy the colourful visuals, the body-swap comedy element, and all the cat jokes. There’s plenty of humour in here to amuse both kids and adults, but grown-ups may appreciate what it’s saying too.

Available on Disney+ for no extra fee on Christmas Day

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.