“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.”

Directors: Paul Briggs, Don Hall, Carlos Lopez Estrada, John Ripa
Writers: Paul Briggs, On Hall, Adele Lim, Carlos Lopez Estrada, Kiel Murray, Qui Nguyen, John Ripa, Dean Wellins
Staring: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Izaac Wang,Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kom, Benedict Wong, Sandra Oh, Alan Tudyk
Rating: PG
Release Date: March 5, 2021

All is going well In a world where dragons and humans cohabited with one another, The synergy amongst all humans of the five clans is put to the test when a mysterious evil called the Druun emerges and threatens everything that everyone holds dear. The dragons, in an effort to save the essence of themselves and the human race, sacrifice themselves to keep the evil at bay.

500 years later, the tribes are at each other’s throats. The various leaders all want part of the magical orb that contains the magic of the dragons, and it is up to Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) and her father, the tribe leader, to protect this orb from all possible threats. When Chief Benga (Daniel Dae Kim) is betrayed, the delicate balance of the world is lost. Druun is rereleased into the world, and nobody is safe. The five clans all get greedy. With all the chaos quickly unfolding around them, each bit of humanity takes a piece of the orb back to their world. Everything is fractured.

Now we fast forward another six years. Raya is rolling around on her pet friend looking for the only solution possible. Raya is looking for the legendary Susi (Awkwafina), who is supposedly the dragon that assembled the now disassembled orb.

Ta-da! Raya finds Sisu! it is a Disney movie! Or course this happens!

Now we have a buddy movie. Now we have the significantly worse part of the movie. Yea I am injecting some opinions in here now.

Raya and Sisu are the leaders of an eventual rag-tag group of misfits tasked with finding all parts of the magical orb. It is the only way that Sisu can bring back the dragon magic needed to destroy the Druun. The animated version of the rat pack have to learn to trust each other, embrace their own true natures, accept the past, and not fear the future. Through these various life lessons, Raya is able to get on the doorstep of success. However, she needs help to take the final steps across the finish line. The drama in the end is whether or not morality and faith can overcome seemingly unsurmountable odds.

If you give my the first half of Raya And The Last Dragon, I’ll gobble it all up and go for seconds. You give me the second half, and I will politely eat it but I’ll be reaching for snacks when the chef is not looking.

The expository start to the story is very much an homage to classic Kung-Fu/martial arts movies with different clans not getting along. It has the upstart hero who is talented but still looking for a test to prove herself. The fighting style of Raya is based off various styles, most notably from Fillipino and Indonesian. The father-daughter mentoring relationship worked well and the classic betrayal is like a classic western movie cliche. The different fonts and landscapes were cool to see. Honestly it reminded me a bit of Avatar: The Last Airbender with the different clans going against one another while all looking for the same being that could give them ultimate power.

The second half of the movie loses its spark. Raya no longer becomes the main character of the story. It becomes a Sisu story, due in large part to the vocal performance of Awkwafina. Her voice is immediately identifiable. It is like Steve-o’s voice, who was in the Barstool office last week and I heard in the kitchen and did a double-take. It is unmissable.

I was so much more interested in Raya as a character, but she falls into the shadows. To put it in the context of Raya And The Last Dragon, she turns to stone. Sisu steals the spotlight, and with that comes eye-rolling comedic bits.

I am really tired of the doofy animated character who is new to a world and they have to learn to adapt to the cultures, people and behaviors. Perhaps it was just me out growing this classic screenplay path, or maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for it in this movie, but the character of Sisu was incredibly annoying.

Raya And The Last Dragon is set in a fictional world, and the first part of the movie did an excellent job of establishing just enough for the audience to be excited about it. It was not overdone, rather it was tastefully done. I wanted to learn more about the world through the same visual style and clan, ninja story-esq aesthetic. Instead it shifted through the eyes of a puppy dog.

I am not a big dog or puppy, and that goes the actual animals and the attitude type.

Raya And the Last Dragon has a badass women as the lead who is educated on the world but the audience is forced to watch the climax mainly through the eyes of an Urkel-esq dragon. Would rather have Raya figure it all out and remain atop the batting line-up and get the most at-bats. The ninja competing factions vibes dwindle down to Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993) entertainment value.

Raya And The Last Dragon has all the other bits that could make it a very good animated movie. The voice acting is solid, specially for everyone having to work from their homes and send in the lines individually (big time COVID times). The movie looks spectacular, specially for being in the dark a lot of time. Literally many evening scenes and dark shaded moments but the vibrancy of what is occurring still bursts through.

The only bit about Raya And The Last Dragon is falls below the Mendoza line is the story, and in an animated story you need the story to keep anyone older the age of 12 engaged. It also helps is the story focuses on the better characters rather than slipping down to the school jester.

Raya And The Last Dragon isn’t bad, but it is incredibly frustrating. Admittedly I am probably being too hard on it. The waste of what this movie could have been with the veer it takes irks me more than it rightfully should.

STANKO RATING: C (2.5/5 Stars)

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