'Raya and the Last Dragon' - Movie Review

"Raya and the Last Dragon" is gloriously beautiful every step of the way. I also found it mildly amusing and surprisingly hollow. While the movie opens with our lead character (Raya, voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) in voice-over explaining how her world is in a terrible state and it's all her fault, we learn fairly soon that her only fault was in trusting someone. That at least is mildly different than the somewhat more common idea that the protagonist created a huge problem and has to solve it - a formula I'm very tired of. Although the consequences of Raya's action were definitely tragic (and true to Disney, reversible).

Raya is on a quest to recover all the now separated pieces of the Dragon Gem, and to find Sisu, the last dragon. She finds Sisu (Awkwafina), and then as they try to collect the pieces of the Dragon Gem, they accumulate the traditional motley crew of supporting characters. Each enters in a great thunder of personality, and then are converted into allies in various ways. The language used (particularly by Sisu/Awkwafina) features an over-abundance of current slang ("oh, so you're not besties?") - which I found jarring in an ancient Chinese setting.

I was both amused and annoyed that they named Raya's pet/transport after a loathed southeast Asian vehicle (it's used a lot of places, but I've seen them most in India and Thailand). That would be Tuk Tuk. Voiced (not that it speaks) by none other than Alan Tudyk, who seems to specialize in non-human roles ...

The movie is really beautiful to look at, but I found the characters - and particularly the over-simplified discussion of the requirement for trust - annoying. I occasionally rewatch my favourite animated movies ... but I don't think this is going to be one of them.

MAJOR SPOILERS (stop reading now etc.): the writers lay out the horrors of the Druun: they sweep over people, and no matter their position when the Druun arrive, they're turned into stone standing upright in a position of supplication. And the Dragon Gem returns everyone who was turned to stone back to normal life. But part way through the movie we see what amounts to a garden full of stone dragons - and no matter how you work through this, they should all have been returned to life by Sisu's first application of the gem (and yet all the dragons except Sisu were all stone for the intervening 500 years).

In one of the grand final scenes as our main characters are all turned to stone, only one of them is set in the pose of supplication, the rest are charmingly posed around her as her surrogate family. Breaking the logic we've been introduced to to suit the desires of the writers. And finally ... we have a big discussion of trust, and particularly trusting people who have betrayed you previously - first of all, that's even more difficult than it's portrayed as being in the film, and second, the act of "trust" is fairly meaningless when it's given under extreme duress (as in, "we're all dying anyway, do we have any other choice?"). It felt almost ... cheap. None of these problems are likely to bother kids, but just because you're writing for kids doesn't mean you have a license to write badly ...