Raya and the Last Dragon (Review)

Mar 1, 2021

Raya and the Last Dragon

Directed by: Don Hall, Carlos Lopez Estrada, Paul Briggs, John Rippa
Written by: Qui Nguyen, Adele Lim
Starring: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Izaac Wang, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Jona Xiao, Sandra Oh, Lucille Soong, Alan Tudyk

Last year, I explored the world of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild a second time. I often found myself awestruck by the land’s beauty. The green pastures, the sweltering deserts, and the cold mountains of Hyrule were all depicted in full majestic glory. But as my playthrough continued, it wasn’t uncommon to be struck by another emotion: melancholy. Beneath the gorgeous landscapes of the land, with its rolling hills and elegant ruins, a sense of loss lingered, for all of these places were empty. The lives which once inhabited these places were snuffed out by a terrible calamity one hundred years ago. When exploring Breath of the Wild, the apocalypse feels as if it already came. Instead of a bang or a whimper, the world ended with a heavy sigh.

Raya and the Last Dragon left me with those same sensations of awe and melancholy. From the opening shots, we see that Raya and the Last Dragon’s world of Kumandra is a place of breathtaking sights and colors. The world is so vibrant, in fact, that it creates a stark contrast to the lack of life within it. Like Hyrule, Kumandra and its people have been ravaged by a calamity that has ended life as its people knew it. The Druun, chaotic spirits born of humanity’s darkest emotions, have turned most humans of Kumandra into statues. The best hope humanity has is with the warrior princess Raya (Kelly Marie Tran). She travels the world searching for a way to awaken the powers of the dragon Sisu (Awkwafina), the last of her kind. To succeed, Raya herself must hone a skill that this war torn world has taught her to neglect: trust. “The world is broken,” Raya says to her dragon companion, “you can’t trust anyone.” Sisu then replies, “Maybe the world is broken because you don’t trust anyone.”

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What a moral for these times! Trust is something that has been in all too short supply in contemporary life. We’re often encouraged to approach things with a critical eye, an approach that has left many of us hardened and cynical. It’s a viewpoint that’s often encouraged by the media we consume, Disney included. Often, trust is something that’s only used by cunning villains to take advantage of naive heroes. But in Raya and the Last Dragon, an overreliance on cynicism is its own kind of naivete. True wisdom, the film posits, can only come from deep, fundamental trust in one another.

That’s not to say trust should come freely. After all, it takes a continent-wide trek with a talking dragon for Raya to trust others. But if Raya can find trust in a world that’s breathing its last, then it maybe isn’t quite so hard for the rest of us.

Score: 9.0

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