Disney animation Raya and The Last Dragon a 'rip-roaring adventure that deftly plucks heartstrings'

A courageous warrior (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) vows to restore peace to her deeply divided kingdom in the action-packed Disney animation Raya and The Last Dragon

Raya And The Last Dragon: Namaari (voiced by Gemma Chan)
Damon Smith


Animation/Action/Fantasy/Adventure/Comedy. Featuring the voices of Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Izaac Wang, Benedict Wong, Daniel Dae Kim, Thalia Tran, Alan Tudyk. Directors: Don Hall, Carlos Lopez Estrada, Paul Briggs, John Ripa.

Released: March 5 (available exclusively on Disney+ with Premier Access £19.99)

EAST meets west with clashing swords as the computer animation wizards at Disney continue to push visual boundaries on land, in the clouds and underwater in Raya And The Last Dragon.

Masterminded almost entirely from home during lockdown by directors Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada and co-directors Paul Briggs and John Ripa, this rip-roaring adventure shares creative DNA with the 1998 Disney animation Mulan, spliced with genes from the Indiana Jones and Star Wars universes.

A trio of acrobatic, monkey-like thieves called the Ongis owe some of their rough and tumble charm to the militaristic penguins in Madagascar, softened with the hilarious addition of a light-fingered "con baby", whose larcenous antics give an entirely new meaning to the term cradle-snatcher.

Co-writers Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim, one of the razor-sharp adapters of Crazy Rich Asians, promote female empowerment through the eyes of an emotionally damaged and flawed heroine, whose narrative arc elicits more than one trickle of tears.

A virtuoso comedic turn from Awkwafina as the magical behemoth of the title draws favourable comparisons to Eddie Murphy's Mushu.

She riffs energetically with co-stars as her creature jabbers incessantly to overcome insecurities and seeks to demonstrate her feted swimming prowess: "I slaughter when I hit the water!"

In every sense, she makes a big splash.

Five hundred years ago, the enchanted kingdom of Kumandra blossomed from the seed of a blissful union between humans and dragons. Alas, a plague borne of discord called the Druun took root and ravaged the land, reducing creatures great and small to lifeless statues.

The dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity, channelling their power into a single glittering gem which banished the Druun. Chief Benja (voiced by Daniel Dae Kim) and his "dragon nerd" daughter Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) proudly protect the luminescent stone from covetous eyes.

They remain hopeful that deep divisions can be healed between the five feuding clans: Fang, Heart, Spine, Tail and Talon.

One poor judgment allows the Druun to return and Raya embarks on a perilous quest with her bug armadillo companion Tuk Tuk (Alan Tudyk) to restore peace by summoning the spirit of fallen dragon Sisu (Awkwafina).

As she travels through the realms, Raya forges alliances with street-smart 10-year-old orphan Boun (Izaac Wang), hulking warrior Tong (Benedict Wong) and pilfering infant Noi (Thalia Tran).

Raya And The Last Dragon follows this "fellowship of Druun butt-kickery" on a rollicking odyssey that deftly plucks heartstrings. Retinas are repeatedly dazzled by lush, sweeping landscapes and highly detailed characters, whose faces ripple with fear, guilt and regret, echoed in the elegiac melodies of composer James Newton Howard's majestic score laden with Asian instruments.

A powerful underlying message about camaraderie and resilience in the face of adversity is echoed in the film-makers' triumph over technical and broadband limitations during the past 12 months to deliver such exquisite (martial) artistry.

Rating: 8/10

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