Film Review: Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

At last it was available on Disney+. Well more precisely Disney+ Hotstar. As it is the version that is available in my Country, Indonesia. This version of Disney+ doesn’t have the so-called Premier Access feature. On one hand it’s good, so that we don’t have to pay more after paying for the subscription. Also don’t give Disney the idea that this business model will work. But on the other hand, we get access to the film some months later.

What is This Film Anyway?

Raya is a young woman who once believed in unity like her father was. But it turned out, the world is not as what she thought it was. In this world (or our world too), people are just people. They would do anything to get whatever they wanted. Fight, lie, betrayal, you name it, hurting people in essence.

There was a time when all nations united as one, Kumandra. When the people lived in harmony and the dragons were still a thing too. Now all the five nations have gone their separate ways. Trying to mind their own business while being suspicious and ready to rage war against the other nations. Kumandra turned out to be just a fairy tale.

Fresh Take of Asia

Is it that hard for western people to know that Asia is not just China, Japan and Korea? India is also part of Asia, Saudi Arabia is also part of Asia and here Disney tried to take on a South-East Asia setting to make something new. South-East Asia consists of many nations too, with its own characteristics, and even many places in one nation here have their own. So, people, please don’t generalise Asia 🙂

Going back to the film. Raya and the Last Dragon seems to be taking place circa 1000-1500 AD. I’m not sure though. The film gives no specific information. Well it’s a fantasy one anyway, not a historical one.

I like the way Raya showed us how she would enter a sacred place. By taking her sandals off first. Like you maybe already know, in most places in Asia, we take our shoes or any other footwear off before entering a house, let alone a temple, mosque or other place we should keep it clean.

Raya and his father (Image: Disney)

More of the strong aspect of South-East Asian in the film was the food. Various foods shown throughout the film were so rich in its colour and also variance. Spicy foods were everywhere. Sambal was all over the place. Don’t forget how the foods were cooked with a lot of spices. The characteristics of foods found all around South-East Asia. 

Actually there’s more, like the clothes they were wearing. They differed from country to country. But they have some kind of one design language throughout them. I don’t want to go deep about it though because I don’t know much about fashion.

Dubbing

If you have a chance to watch the film from Indonesia, Malaysia, or any other country in South-East Asia. Please watch with dubbing from the local language, if it’s available. For me, it is much more enjoyable (and makes sense). Though sometimes the translation is a bit awkward. Not often but like once in a hundred sentences. Noticeable and still good anyway.

Full of Interesting Characters, But..

Sisu the so-called last dragon (Image: Disney)

Remember the title, “… Last Dragon”. This last dragon was Sisu. And from a personal perspective, she is the most annoying one. Sisu was just a naive dragon who thought everyone was good but the fact that people weren’t. So many of her actions led to awful consequences. Yes it is part of the story but is it really necessary?

Other than a dragon, there were other characters who accompanied and also somehow interfered with Raya throughout her journey. Each of them represented the other four countries in which Raya interacted in the past and also explored in the present. 

However I feel no deep connection for them. No matter how good the whole designs are. These characters are just the gears for the story to move forward. So, yes the film is full of interesting characters, but that’s it. Anyway it can only be just me (or maybe others feel this too).

Let’s Wrap It Up

So, if you want any deep meaning from the film, I’d say that Raya and the Last Dragon don’t deliver that. Don’t get me wrong. This film still teaches us how we should unite and everything; entertains us in a new take on Asia; beautiful Disney-esque animation; and so on and so forth. 

Five main characters representing five nations. Five nations representing five anatomy of a dragon. Five dragons who are the central of the origin story. There you have it, Raya and the Last Dragon in a nutshell. Yes, there are many compelling elements in the film. But it’s just to drive the plot to progress from one point to another.

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