Movie Review: Raya and the Last Dragon
After hitting such highs with Blindspotting, director Carlos López Estrada had nowhere to go but down. Raya and the Last Dragon is the sobering aftereffects of hitting the ground running, and subsequently tripping over your shoelaces. How the promising has fallen, but at least he has gotten his foot in the door. At what cost? At the cost of artistry. While Raya and the Last Dragon is an inclusive, well-animated piece, it is striking to see that Disney will try and coast along on inclusion alone. With no semblance of quality, there is instead the notion that this is where we as an audience are headed. To competent but static, unimaginative fodder which will distract the minds of children and bore adults to tears.
Borrowing the character designs found in Avatar: The Last Airbender in the same sense that Britain borrowed valuable, historical artefacts from colonies, Raya and the Last Dragon has a clear issue surrounding where they source their content. In fact, its content is indeed a problem. Venturing far and wide in search of some such MacGuffin device, picking up a token character from each location and then having a big blow-out at the end, there is nothing original here. Estrada is strict with his script, and there is not a single second or note of unique style or charm. With all the usual double-crosses, inadvertent supporting characters who are initially at odds with the goals of the protagonist, and of course the banter between supporting comic characters, Raya and the Last Dragon is disgustingly bland and forgettable.
How Raya and the Last Dragon implements the very basic storyline is of no interest to the legions of fans who will watch on in awe. From a solely animated perspective, there is much to be in awe of. The film looks stunning, an amazing landscape is explored with the riches being the fool’s gold variety. Character designs fall to pieces, incredibly poor designs that just feel uninspired and dull. While they may look of a high quality, they fumble it greatly with these caricatures of good and evil. There are, however, some solid fight scenes, the choreography rather good but the moments themselves completely inconsequential. All the neutered tones of the Disney style are present, and that is the exact issue found with both the script and style of this insignificantly shoddy work.
Weak attempts at humour and a plot that bases itself entirely on MacGuffins and stifled chemistry between Tran and Awkwafina, Raya and the Last Dragon touches upon all the usual problems of the Disney formula. Key the messages of these films may be, the message here seems to be “don’t trust people” and “don’t have kids”. Fair warnings for the enlightened few out there who needed to reaffirm it, but it won’t do all that much for those who wish to teach their children with these pieces. Nothing here comes across as earnest, heartfelt or all that original, but people are swayed by strong design, and that will be the lasting legacy of Raya and the Last Dragon.