As Disney bends another movie to its Disney+ Premier Access release strategy, the expected cinematic scope of Raya and the Last Dragon is curtailed by home viewing. The film hurtles in head-first with the history and status of Raya’s (Kelly Marie Tran) fractured homeland, Kumandra, the mortal peril, her family situation, and sets up the last dragon quest – focus is key, as the screenplay often lacks it and the sometimes lacklustre dialogue becomes evident from here on in.

There are, naturally, Disney hallmarks. Her caring father? Of course something bad will happen to him imminently. A veritable buffet of sidekicks seems to have made the cut – Pocahontas’ loss of a turkey sidekick for fear of overcrowding is clearly Raya’s gain. Tuk Tuk ticks the cute, faithful sidekick box, but there are also three devilishly synchronised monkey-like creatures and their “con baby” charge (the standouts), as well as boat owner and mini-hustler Boun (Izaac Wang) and gentle giant Tong (Benedict Wong). They are possibly too much, but all have their moments.

As Sisu, the titular last dragon, Awkwafina brings shades of Eddie Murphy as another sassy dragon, but she’s great and proves her distinctive tone – like Murphy’s – was made for animation.

Like with previous recent Disney releases, the focus is on Raya’s personal “buttkickery” development, as well as a fractious relationship with childhood frenemy Namaari (Gemma Chan). The force of the lesson in trust is… unsubtle. Raya’s strongest point is, unsurprisingly, its vibrant animation, both artistically and technically-speaking, so the small screen stings.

Raya and the Last Dragon is as gorgeous as hoped, and in its more fantastical moments – combined with Thomas Newton Howard’s soaring score – hits the same flights of fancy as Studio Ghibli, but its separate elements never quite combine in the right way to make it a true Disney gem.



CAST: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Daniel Dae Kim, Gemma Chan, Sandra Oh, Benedict Wong, Izaac Wang, Alan Tudyk

DIRECTORS: Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada (director); Paul Briggs and John Ripa

WRITERS: Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim (screenplay); Paul Briggs, Don Hall, Adele Lim, Carlos López Estrada, Kiel Murray, Qui Nguyen, John Ripa and Dean Wellins (story)

SYNOPSIS: In a realm known as Kumandra, a re-imagined Earth inhabited by an ancient civilization, a warrior named Raya is determined to find the last dragon.