By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

With an amazing voice cast, gorgeous computer animation, and a genuinely heartfelt story, Disney studios has yet another winner on their hands. That might sound a tad formulaic, but if a certain formula works and succeeds greatly, it is best to stick with it. Raya and the Last Dragon explores a side of Asian mythology not previously portrayed in other Disney movies. This, mixed with their tried and true formula, proves to be a recipe for success.

Kelly Marie Tran stars as the titular Raya, a young and optimistc warrior of Kumandra’s Heart Land. The entire land of Kumandra was once a thriving nation where humanity and dragons lived in harmony. Humanity’s greed and the threat of evil spirits known as the Druun destroyed and divided the once utopian society. In the aftermath of these events, harmony, peace, and the dragons no longer existed. In its wake, the Heart Land and other communities have remained distrustful of each other for several generations.

Chief Benja (Daniel Rae Kim) leader of the Heart Land and Raya’s father, hopes to finally reunite the various tribes Kumandra in an attempt to form a united front against the evil of the Druun. However, greed, mistrust, and envy derail Benja’s plans which opens the doors for a tragic attack by the Druun. As she manages to survive the attack, Raya hopes to revive the legendary dragon Sisu (Awkafina) to save her people.

I most certainly adore this movie. Its message of hope, love, and optimisim are timeless, but definitely come at a time when humanity needs it the most. Written by Qui Nguyen, Adele Lim, and directed by Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada, Raya and the Last Dragon succeeds and rises above its formula to offer audiences heartfelt entertainment with important messages and critiques about humanity. It truly is a beautiful experience.

Kelly Marie Tran is perfectly cast as Raya, a young lady struggling with the optimism of her father and the real word problems her people faces. Awkafina is also perfectly cast as the awkward and hilarious Sisu, a dragon who also shares Benja’s optimism and hopes to help contribute to a better world for everyone. Gemma Chan is great as the strong and formidable rival to Raya, Namarri, a young warrior who wishes to contibute to the advancement of her tribe. The movie also features wonderful voice work by Daniel Dae Kim, Sandra Oh, Benedict Wong, and several others.

Raya and the Last Dragon is getting released in theaters on March 5, 2021, but will be simultaneously available on Disney+ with “Premier Access” on the same day. It is a movie I must recommend as a delightful family adventure.

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