RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON
Starring: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Izaac Wang, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Jona Xiao, Sandra Oh, Thalia Tran, Lucille Soong, and Alan Tudyk
Directors: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada, and Jon Ripa
I wasn't prepared for how beautiful this film would be. Sporting some of the lushest artistry I've ever seen in a Disney movie, the stunning images are complimented by a soaring orchestral score that ranges from Southeast Asian drums to 90s synthesizers to transcendent choral arrangements. I was likewise blindsided by how relevant the story was: like our world, Raya's is divided by self-interest and powerplay, so trust has become the rarest of human qualities. I usually don't buy into stories where people overcome their tribalism, but this film earnestly sells its tale of teamwork amidst a damaged world.
Raya and the Last Dragon is Disney’s most ambitious animated feature in years, with easily the most to say of any non-Pixar film (besides Zootopia). The story's setting is similar to Black Panther, but with Southeast Asian mythos informing its characters and plot. The film makes short work of getting the viewer invested with beautiful animation and an incredible score by James Newton Howard. It does miss out on some opportunities to explore the more nuanced sides of trust and betrayal, but partly makes up for it through stellar action and genuine emotional depth.