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.

Over the Moon: Netflix Film Review

Over the Moon

There has been a distinct lack of animations so far this year, but they now seem to be coming out at the same time, with Wolfwalkers, Soul, and Over the Moon being released within weeks of each other. Will Over the Moon stand out from the crowd? Read on to find out. 

Over the Moon, featuring an all-Asian voice cast, tells the story of Fei Fei (Cathy Ang), a young girl who is still grieving for her mum, who died four years before the main events of the film. She refuses to believe her dad (John Cho) has moved on with Mrs Zhong (Sandra Oh) and that she now has a stepbrother, Chin (Robert G Chui). Fei Fei has always been obsessed with the Chinese moon goddess Chang’e (Phillipa Soo) and decides to build a rocket ship to the moon to meet her, with Chin secretly coming along for the ride. 

Although the inclusion of Chinese mythology gives Over the Moon a new angle, many aspects of it felt borrowed, or at least inspired, by other animations. For example, the main character has a dead parent, both lead children have funny animal companions – a frog and a rabbit (which is a great source of humour), there’s an unwanted sidekick (in Chin), a disco-pop musical number which reminded me of Zootroplis, and Fei Fei’s new moon friend Gobi (Ken Jeong) was very Olaf-like. It’s like Glen Keane and his team were trying to tick the boxes of what makes Disney/Pixar movies so successful. I understand why they’d want to stick with the tried and tested formula, but it just results in a film that feels rather derivative. 

Also, you can guess the message – or the lesson Fei Fei learns from her journey – just from reading the summary above, so it’s obvious and predictable, but it’s still a worthy message and its heart is in the right place. And on another critical note, I didn’t love how the moon inhabitants (not including Chang’e and another rabbit) were realised visually. They seemed to be colourful blobs without a proper outline. All the Earth-based scenes and people are animated like you’d expect and look great so the moon-based imagery looks cheaper and more garish by comparison. 

But, despite all these criticisms, I still really enjoyed it. Fei Fei is lovely, I think kids will really like her, there are some moments that made me properly laugh out loud (I even rewound one to watch it again), and some of the musical numbers are a lot of fun, particularly Chang’e’s introductory number, an electro-pop banger that wouldn’t seem out of place at Eurovision. Chang’e is given gorgeous costumes and she has a beautiful singing voice, which is no surprise considering Soo is from Hamilton. Although not all the songs made an impact, I loved that there was a mix of styles, so there’s the usual musical theatre ones, the generic pop numbers, and even a rap one. 

Over the Moon has quite a few flaws but at the end of the day, the only question that truly matters is – will children enjoy it? And the answer is a big fat yes. If your kids like Disney, they will like Over the Moon, because you probably can’t tell the difference. It is a much-needed slice of entertaining escapism.

In selected cinemas now and on Netflix from Friday 23rd October 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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