Raya and the Last Dragon

By Joanna Langfield

This beautiful blend of traditional Disney adventure and almost shockingly timely themes makes this animated adventure terrific and vital entertainment.

Here’s the set up. 500 years ago, the world of Kumandra was a wonderful, harmonious place. But monsters reared their ugliness and dragons sacrificed themselves in order to save humanity. Now, those monsters are back at it and it falls to young Raya, a newly orphaned warrior, to find the last dragon who can help save the world. With nods to cinematic classics ranging from Star Wars to Aladdin, the arc of the story may not surprise, but thanks to some determinedly pungent writing, the echoes to today feel fresh. Because the primary audience is probably children, parents may want to be on hand, in case a small viewer is unnerved (there are a few pretty serious scenes of threat) or wants to compare Raya’s fissured universe to their own.

Artistically, the production quality is tops. Effective animation reflects what can be done technologically these days, but never forgets the basic art of Raya’s adventures through many different communities. There are the usual “aww” characters who join along the way and, as a great counterpart to the beautiful and brave Raya, a dandy sidekick with a story of her own, to make us laugh and maybe cry. Kelly Marie Tran does a lovely job voicing Raya, but it’s Awkwafina who steals the show, making her reluctant dragon a glorious hoot and a half.