No romantic plot, princesses to rescue or musical numbers. But with a contagious adventurous spirit, tributes to classics of the genre and the undeniable punch that, since ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ (2012), the Mickey Mouse studio has been able to impregnate its most recent animated works. This is how ‘Raya and the last dragon’ arrives in theaters – at least to those who will screen it, leaving aside both the controversy of the exhibition windows and the commented role of the studio in these times of pandemic – and also to Disney +, first for rent in its Premium section and, in a few weeks, as part of the platform’s catalogue.
When plans go well
Controversies aside, the film confirms the good shape of the Burbank company’s cartoon division after the swerve that, in those curious synergies of life, started just when Pixar was working on ‘Cars 2’ (2011), one of the few low moments of the study of the flexo. And it does so with a story that, without being a display of originality –in fact, the script follows the well-known itinerary of the hero at all times for the enjoyment of the viewer, trained or not in searches or crusades with the aim of recovering cursed relics–, offers moments of intensity and emotion. His three best shots are action (chases, kung-fu fights, and karate to the death in the lost kingdom of Kumandra); a bunch of lucky supporting characters (watch out for little Noi, a gem-stealing, scene-swiping baby); and a message of empowerment and sisterhood that is directly linked to the recent successes of animation made in Disney: the two installments ‘Frozen’ (2013 and 2019), but above all with ‘Vaiana’ (2016) and, predictably, the next ‘ Charm’. All of them stories starring brave and determined girls and that, like the last two films mentioned, dive into and make a foreign imaginary their own. In the case of ‘Raya and the last dragon’, the rich folklore of Southeast Asia, the source from which the visual strength of the film flows and also the attention to the diversity of the proposal.
That look at the East, confirmed by the choice of a casting in its original version made up entirely of actors and actresses of Asian origin, was already present in the previous work for Disney Animation by Don Hall, co-director here with Carlos López Estrada. Thus, if in ‘Big Hero 6’ he nurtured the vigour, expressiveness and fluidity of anime while paying homage to it in a sparkling and brilliant miscegenation, here he draws from period martial arts cinema and wuxia epics, both from those mass-produced in Taiwan and Hong Kong studios since the 1970s as Zhang Yimou’s latest titles. A stimulating journey full of visual successes in which the only element that does not reach the expected heights, perhaps because Toothless and the rest of the creatures of the DreamWorks franchise are fresh in the memory, is the dragon Sisu. A direct relative of the Genie from ‘Aladin’ (1991) but without her magic or, sorry, genius, the character of Awkwafina –who is undoubtedly predestined to become a new merchandising success– acts as a narrative resource but never transcends the history. This, and her wager on the training, belongs to Raya. She, and her journey of redemption, knowledge and learning from her, are the heart of the film. A film that has its moral (trust others and look ahead, find what unites us, instead of staying in the past that once divided us) but whose best coup is the updating of the saying that marked the work of the old Walt-Disney: For every laugh, there should be a tear… And also a kung-fu kick.
For little (and also grown up) grasshoppers thirsty for adventure in lost kingdoms full of fantastic animals.
Address: Don Hall, Carlos Lopez Estrada Cast (voices): Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Geemma Chan, Daniel Dee Kim, Izaac Wang, Benedict Wong, Sandra Oh Original title: Raya and the Last Dragon Country: USA Year: 2021 Release date: 5-03-2021 Gender: Animation Script: Qui Nguyen, Adele Lim Duration: 114 minutes
Synopsis: The film transports us to the fantasy world of Kumandra, where humans and dragons lived together long ago in perfect harmony. But when evil forces threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, 500 years later, those same evil forces have returned and Raya, a lone warrior, will have to find the last legendary dragon to rebuild a destroyed world and bring her people back together. However, throughout her adventure, she will come to understand that it takes more than a dragon’s magic to save the world: she will also need self-confidence and teamwork.
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