What is it about? Raya and the Last Dragon, the new Disney animated film? It will live up to the aspectative? We see it in this article!

As we are still in full pandemic and cinemas are closed, a new Disney animated film comes out on Disney + with VIP access, a bit like it already happened with Mulan.
We are talking about Raya and the Last Dragon, XNUMXth Disney movie, released on Disney + il 5 March.
I admit it: if initially the idea of ​​this film had not particularly thrilled me, as I perceived it too much as a rehash of Avatar: the last airbender e The legend of Korra, over time and with the new trailers Raya and the Last Dragon started to interest me. In general, I was hoping it would be a good movie, a good job.

I was partially satisfied and partially disappointed. I wanted a lot more, and I think there are already titles that deal with the same themes better than Raya and the Last Dragon. However, I also appreciated the message the film conveys very well.
So let's see in more detail what this film is about and what reactions it aroused in me.

Warning: this article contains SPOILERS on the whole plot of Raya and the Last Dragon!

One of the many promotional posters of Raya and the Last Dragon
One of the many promotional posters of Raya and the Last Dragon

The plot of Raya and the Last Dragon

This film tells the story of Stingray, the daughter of Benja, the leader of the tribe of Heart. Cuore is one of the five regions in which the land of kumandra, where once men and dragons lived together, united and prosperous.
However, Kumandra split after the emergence of the Druuns, shadow beings capable of turning humans and dragons into statues. Five hundred years before our history, dragons sacrificed themselves to stop the Druun, creating a magical stone that would repel them. However, even with narrow escape, humans have never gathered into a single people, dividing into the lands of Fang, Heart, Back, Claw and Tail.

The background: the broken trust and the return of the Druuns

But Raya's father, Benja, is convinced that it is possible to reunite the five peoples and recreate Kumandra. The important thing is to trust each other and, above all, to be the first to trust other peoples. Thus, Benja invited the leaders of the other clans to Cuore. If at first everything seemed to go well, thanks also to the fact that Raya manages to make friends with the daughter of the leader of Zanna, Namaari, the peace does not last long.

Raya, in fact, in a gesture of trust, shows Namaari the magic stone of the dragons, kept safe by the people of Heart. However, Namaari betrays Raya, as the people of Fang want to have the stone for themselves, convinced that it will bring them prosperity. In the ensuing turmoil, someone injures Benja in the leg and, by mistake, the stone is broken into five pieces.
The Druuns immediately return to the world, devastating Heart and turning Benja to stone.

The finding of Sisu

Over the next six years, Raya sets out to search for Sisu, the last potentially living dragon. Ironically, Raya found out that Sisu may still be alive at Namaari's, before Namaari betrays her.
After searching far and wide for Sisu on all the mouths of the rivers of Kumandra, Raya finally finds the dragon in the remote Coda. Sisu, however, does not turn out to be a very powerful and wise dragon, but candidly admits that she is only the younger sister of the dragons who created the sphere and that she cannot create a new one on her own. However, he could fix the broken sphere if all the fragments were found, each in the hands of a different tribe.

The search for the fragments of the stone

Thus, Raya and Sisu begin their journey in search of the fragments, initially pursued by Namaari.
On their journey, Raya and Sisu will be joined by other people who have lost everything to Druun and who, over time, will be willing to trust each other to recreate the magic stone and bring loved ones back to life.

The first is Boun, a little boy who has lost his parents and who has reinvented himself as a cook and ferryman. It will be on Boun's boat that Raya and Sisu will travel from one end of Kumandra to the other.
The second is About Us, a very clever baby girl at the head of a group of baboons, with whom she has set up a profitable business of scam and theft. We too have lost their parents and for this reason finds themselves living by expedients. He will join Raya and Sisu mainly to eat and get his family back.
The third is Tong, a warrior from Dorso who lost his entire village to the Druuns, including his daughter. He will join with Raya and Sisu to get his people back.

The importance of trust

The most important part of Raya and Sisu's journey, in reality, is not so much the discovery of the fragments of the stone, but the discovery of how and why the stone was created.
Indeed, Sisu will reveal to Raya that the stone is born from confidence. In her case, the stone was born from the fact that her brothers and sisters had placed their trust in her. In fact, the Druuns are the personification of people's distrust.

Thus, Raya agrees to retrieve the last fragment of the stone by talking to Namaari and trying to make peace with her. However, Raya and Namaari are both still too scared of the other's betrayal and Namaari accidentally hits Sisu with a crossbow shot, killing her.
Since dragons are the personification of water (which the Druuns cannot cross), the death of Sisu, the last dragon, makes all of Kumandra's water disappear. In this way, the capital of Zanna, previously isolated and protected by canals, remains uncovered and the Druuns invade it, petrifying the people (and Namaari's mother).

The resolution of the conflict

After Sisu's death, Raya is devastated by grief and lashes out at Namaari, herself devastated by the loss of her mother.
It is Boun, Noi and Tong who keep a cool head and try to rescue the civilians of Fang, protecting them thanks to the fragments of the stone. However, little by little the stone is darkening and losing power.

Recognized by the destruction around them, Raya and Namaari come to their senses and team up with others to save civilians. But the Druuns are too many and soon the five find themselves surrounded, each with a fragment of dying stone in hand.
At this point, Raya realizes that if the stone was created by trust, they don't need the dragons to recreate it. So, Raya decides to take the first step, donating her fragment to Namaari and then being turned into stone by the Druuns. One at a time, Boun, Noi and Tong also give their fragments to Namaari, all of which are transformed into statues.
In front of the sacrifice of the other four, Namaari in turn decides to stay with them and, at the risk of her own life, she reassembles the stone before being petrified in turn.

However, the demonstration of confidence of the five was enough and the stone is fully reformed. The Druuns are chased away and all their victims come back to life, including the dragons, who in turn bring Sisu back to life.
After the trust given has borne fruit, Raya, Namaari, Boun, Noi and Tong recover their respective families and, all together, they will unite to create a better future, in which the five clans can return to being one land.

Sisu in human form in Raya and the Last Dragon
Sisu in human form in Raya and the Last Dragon

A small introduction before leaving with my impressions

In this article, I'll talk about what I liked and what I didn't like about Raya and the Last Dragon.
But keep in mind that I will focus on the aspects of the work that struck me most and on which, based on my skills and interests, I focused the most while watching the film.
If you think the topics I'm going to talk about aren't the most important aspects of the film, that's fine. It is perfectly acceptable that you want to focus on other things and that you may or may not like this film in spite of what I say.

The positive aspects of Raya and the Last Dragon

I admit: the final message of Raya and the Last Dragon I really liked it a lot and found it very true.
Trusting others is the only way to gain trust in turn. However, trusting is not easy and comes with risks.
You can choose not to risk, remaining all in their comfort zone (or homeland) and closing ourselves off to the rest of the world, so that no one can hurt us. The point of trust is that when we give it to someone, we put that person in a position of having power over us, of being able to hurt us. That is why it is so difficult to trust others.

Nevertheless, not taking risks and never trusting sooner or later will mean that we will be left alone, literally prey to our inner demons (aka the Druuns) and in a situation of perpetual immobility (aka transformation into statues). (Statues which may all be close together, but which cannot see or interact with each other, thus always remaining alone, even if in a group.)
And no, there will never come a time when trusting someone is completely risk-free. We will risk every single time. And it is important, however, that you choose to take risks every single time.

The beginning of a spectacular confrontation between Raya and Namaari
The beginning of a spectacular confrontation between Raya and Namaari

The negatives of Raya and the Last Dragon

Writing the plot in short was actually a very long job. And I assure you that this is the short version for real!
Why Raya and the Last Dragon è a film in which a lot of things happen. There are all the fragments to recover, then traps to overcome, more duels between Raya and Namaari, granny lord of the crime, Sisu who trusts people and suffers consequences, Sisu who gains the powers of his brothers and sisters, the various characters who bind, plans to take the last fragment.
In short, Raya and the Last Dragon it's a very full movie. Too full of things. And this is a problem.

A very rich worldbuilding, but also too simplified

Raya and the Last Dragon is a story with a worldbuilding very rich, in which very different people and characters are presented, both culturally and visually.
It is not clear, honestly, how solid this worldbuilding actually is, because a lot of things are explained as "it is magic" or "X is the personification of Y". Which in some respects works, because a very light magic system is created that lends itself well to the times of a film.

The Drum / Dragons and Water / Earth duality

For example, it is quite intuitive that if you say that dragons are the opposite of Druuns and that dragons are the personification of water (and trust), then the Druun will not be able to cross the water and will be the personification of mistrust. Furthermore, if dragons are the personification of water, it is understandable why on the death of Sisu (which also means the extinction of dragons) the water disappears. Furthermore, it is understood that the water, in Kumandra, is created in a magical way in the great central lake / river in the shape of a dragon, from which rivers come out (and do not enter!). In conclusion, certain things are understood or intuited.

Other things, on the other hand, are understood much less. For example, the Druuns are not investigated fairly little, and therefore it is not clear that the Druuns are probably also the personification of land. In fact, they can only move on land and turn people to stone. Furthermore, it may be that the earthquakes that occur in Zanna after Sisu's death are caused by the Druuns.
However, as it is presented, it is not clear why the final earthquakes occur and, honestly, seen this way in the film they just seem like a gimmick to cause more drama.

The Drum / Dragons duality, trust / distrust

Even the double personification trust / water e distrust / land leaves me a little doubtful. In fact, both water and earth are not elements that humans can do without, while the film focuses heavily on putting distrust aside. However, the film also clearly shows that, at times, distrust can be a form of wise caution, and that there are negative consequences of placing too much trust in people, as Sisu does.

So, at the end of the film, it seems to me that the moral is that in general one must try to trust others (on pain of not receiving trust in turn!), But without necessarily trusting blindly. There may be situations in which we have no choice but to trust others (under penalty of insured failure), but they are extreme situations.
This makes me think that, in general, in the end he found himself more than anything else a balance between mistrust and trust, in which, however, we try to give an extra push to confidence. For this reason, it makes me strange that some kind of balance has not been achieved between dragons and Druun.

The cultural worldbuilding

As I said before, Raya and the Last Dragon it's a movie where a lot of things happen and you go to a lot of different places.
La cultural variety of the peoples of Kumandra is visually very beautiful. Each tribe is very characteristic and resembles a specific Southeast Asian country, in clothing as well as in architecture. The result is very interesting and very pleasant to see.

However, in the end he feels of know very little about individual peoples. Basically, you feel you know them as Raya knew them at the beginning: by stereotypes or by notions-tokens. Coda is a barren and inhospitable place. Artiglio is a colorful market full of scammers. Dorso is a place inhabited by rough warriors. Zanna is inhabited by unscrupulous and rich people.
In my opinion, it would have been better to take more time to show the strengths, weaknesses, joys and difficulties of the people of each tribe. Only in this way can they be made truly humanized groups.

Young Raya and her father Benja, at the beginning of Raya and the Last Dragon
Young Raya and her father Benja, at the beginning of Raya and the Last Dragon

Too many characters, too many events, too little time

Putting too much meat on the fire in too little time is a problem that also affects the characters.
Raya and the Last Dragon has three main characters, whose adventures we follow individually: Raya, Sisu and Namaari.
Stingray e Sisu they are quite well done and have a pretty solid characterization; moreover, we know the events that most influenced their lives and their character.

Namaari has been characterized in its main aspects (wanting to protect one's people, love for dragons, distrust towards other peoples) (very similar to those of Raya!), but compared to Raya it has one less element: it is her relationship with her mother and how her mother influenced her is less clear. In fact, a big part of Raya's characterization comes from her relationship with her father and how she relates to his loss and his teachings.
Unfortunately, we do not have a similar equivalent for Namaari, and this lack is felt. Which is a shame, because in my opinion Namaari is a beautiful character. Surely, she is my favorite character in the film, and also for this reason I would have liked to see her developed better.

To make the most of the too much meat in the film are Boun, About Us e Tong. Alone, in my opinion they are all very interesting characters with great potential. However, they all had little screen time and it wasn't possible to see them evolve as well as Raya does.
And since Raya and the Last Dragon is a film based on trust between people, to see relatively little of the humanity of other people whom Raya gradually trusts is a pity.

A film that deserved to be a TV series

Since he has so much meat on the fire and six main characters, Raya and the Last Dragon I think it would have performed better as television series.
After all, it is no coincidence that other stories, all of which speak of overcoming the differences between countries and cultures and of personal growth and which are all (at least in my opinion) more incisive in telling their message, are all television series. I'm obviously talking about Avatar: the last airbender (the animated series, of course), The legend of Korra e The prince of dragons.

Even with shorter seasons, Raya and the Last Dragon I think he would have told his story, his characters and his world better if he had had more time. In the times it has now, however, this film tends to don't go too deep and result, always in my opinion, a little flat in places.
Which for me is a great disappointment, because the story told by Raya and the Last Dragon I genuinely liked it. I just wanted to see it taken to a higher quality level, which is the level I think it deserves.

Another of the promotional posters of Raya and the Last Dragon
Another of the promotional posters from Raya and the Last Dragon

Conclusions

I am a grumbling person and critic icon, so I devoted a lot of space to the paragraph on the negative sides of the film.
However, in general to me Raya and the Last Dragon liked. I found it a great story, with great characters, great animation, great design and great message. It is a film that I would like to show to my (very likely) sons and daughters, because I think it is great entertainment with great teaching.

Precisely for this reason, I would have liked to see more. I would have liked a product that takes the time to better investigate its characters and its world. I wanted to find out who shot that crossbow shot at Benja.
And honestly, I wanted to see a great love story from Raya and Namaari. Because, let's face it very clearly, if Namaari had been a man, the love story would have been there. But oh, this is Disney and we know how Disney deals with queer minorities.

About how Raya and the Last Dragon be a mash-up of Southeast Asian cultures and how this has led to criticism, as well as criticism of the original dubbing of the characters, mostly done by Chinese actors, I am not in a position to express myself. These criticisms (and the analysis of these criticisms) should come from people from Southeast Asia, as they are the ones who are really touched by the subject. The best thing we others, who are not from Southeast Asia, can do is to listen e reflect.
In this sense, I advise you to keep an eye on the next videos and insights made by competent people who will surely come out on the subject in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I found the point of view of very interesting Kirby Araullo, youtuber who in life is a historian from the Philippines, exposed in this video.