Once upon a time, in a kingdom called Kumandra, people lived peacefully alongside dragons, who brought them water and protected them. But when a sinister plague known as Druun threatened the land, turning its people to stone, the dragons pooled their power, sacrificing themselves to save humanity, leaving behind only a gem to represent their faith and trust in the people they’d saved.
500 years later, the realm of Kumandra is no more. This last drop of dragon magic proved too tempting, and factions broke off, each desperate to hold the gem themselves. An attempt to steal it breaks the gem into pieces, unleashing the Druun plague monster once again. Raya, a young warrior, goes on an adventure to retrieve the broken pieces of the gem and resurrect the last dragon. It’s going to take more than just magic to heal the world, but trust and cooperation might be even harder to come by.
This is Disney’s latest animated offering, available to stream (at a premium) on Disney+, and if Raya is their most recent addition to the Disney Princess lineup, she’s a good one. Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) is courageous, and adventurous. She plots to save herself, and her people. Sisu (Awkwafina) the dragon also has beautiful female energy, more giving and trusting than Raya, who, though brave, is also flawed, making for a far more interesting protagonist and princess.
The realm of Kumandra may be fictional, but Disney animators were inspired by Southeast Asian countries of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Laos when establishing its unique culture and aesthetic. The film looks stunning, proving that Disney animation is back on top, with or without Pixar. The stellar voice cast includes Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Sandra Oh, and Alan Tudyk, but the greatest interplay is between Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina, who share a wonderful, warm chemistry, emphasizing the film’s respect for female friendship.
The best part of Raya and The Last Dragon may be its subtle but timely message. Raya is a strong and skillful warrior, full of conviction and a sometimes impetuous desire to run straight into battle. Success in her mission, however, will depend more on conflict resolution; people who have long considered themselves enemies will have to put aside their differences in service of the goal they all have in common. Someone will need to be the first to cross partisan lines because the real threat is never the outside force, it’s the cracks sown between the people within. Raya’s fighting style is based on the Filipino martial art Kali but victory won’t require her weapons, she’ll need to arm herself with empathy and diplomacy instead.