The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday September 23rd

Column: ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ is entertaining family fun

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The newest release on Disney+, “Raya and the Last Dragon,” is an animated family adventure film that follows a young woman on an epic quest to save her community and unite her homeland. The film stars Kelly Marie Tran as Raya, along with Awkwafina, Izaac Wang and Gemma Chan.

Like many other Disney films, “Raya and the Last Dragon” delivers an overarching positive message. The film’s morals of trust and unity are well-integrated into the story, giving it an uplifting tone; the treatment of these messages is one of the finest aspects of this movie. 

Another positive aspect of this film is the purposeful representation in both its characters and its contributors. The most intelligent and significant characters in the film are all women, a subtle, yet empowering, touch. 

In addition, there is considerable Southeast Asian representation in the production of the film, including (but not limited to) Vietnamese screenwriter Qui Nguyen and actress Kelly Marie Tran. The world of the film is also heavily inspired by Southeast Asian culture. The on-screen and behind-the-scenes presence of these populations is a small, yet significant, step for more diversity in Hollywood. 

While the film’s plot mostly follows a traditional “Disney formula” in its progression, the story remains entertaining and enjoyable. There are moments when the plot begins to drag and the formulaic nature begins to wear out its welcome, but optimism and humor help keep the experience enjoyable.

Raya is multi-dimensional and engaging, making her a standout among the characters. The antagonist is dynamic as well, making up for some supporting characters the film explores less. 

However, Raya differs from other Disney animated films in its more frequent reliance on overtly telling the audience what is happening. The “exposition drop” scenes in which characters describe the past at length sometimes dragged. These scenes would have been improved if these events were shown rather than told — or told in a less extensive fashion.

The opening, in particular, is a long explanation-heavy scene that is static and lacks the energy of other scenes throughout the movie. In other Disney films like “Moana” and “Frozen,” the exposition scenes are more enjoyable because they arrive in the form of songs. While a musical format may not have necessarily served this story, some long background scenes seemed almost like placeholders for songs. 

Despite some less engaging scenes, the film is visually excellent. Its animation is often gorgeous and painstaking, with some objects and backgrounds appearing borderline photo-realistic and its action scenes are well-edited and exciting to watch.

Of all the commendable aspects of the animation, the greatest is the distinct look of each setting. The colorful variety of the settings allows the vibrant appearance of the film to stand out. James Newton Howard’s score, too, helps the film become a unique sensory experience.

The voice acting serves the characters and the humor well throughout. Despite a middling beginning for some of the acting, the performances become stronger and more distinct as the film progresses. Tran, in particular, gives a strong performance as Raya.

Overall, “Raya and the Last Dragon” is an entertaining and lighthearted film, suitable for the whole family. While there are some issues with the writing, the visual experience and enjoyable story help the film succeed. (7/10)

“Raya and the Last Dragon” is now streaming through Premier Access on Disney+.

@phillipsonfilm

arts@dailytarheel.com

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