Disney’s 59th feature film is everything you would expect it to be. Frothy, hopeful, adventurous, joyful, motivational and engaging. It is a pity that the animation narrative’s vast epic scale is lost in translation. To watch this sumptuous spread of sunshine and vistas at home is to entrap a storm in a teacup.
And yet, what remains even on your home-viewing medium is far from the portals of tedium. It is a delightful treat filled with sounds of bravery and resplendence, replete with a statement on making this wretched world a better place.
The film’s protagonist is Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) the princess of the peace-loving kingdom of Kumandara where Raya’s father the valiant king Benja (voice Daniel Dae Kim) has made every effort to thwart the evil designs of a tribe known as the Druun.
To cut a complicated plot short (the crisscross of power-play is meant only to create an aura of gravity beneath the buoyant surface) Raya takes off with a friendly female dragon named Sisu (voiced with irresistible warmth by the wonderful Awkwafina) to retrieve a magical orb that would unite the scattered tribes of Kumandara.
The fairytale-like ambience is constantly harpooned by cutting mordant dialogues. The conversations have a contemporary swagger about them, and yet that feeling of regal nostalgia for a world gone-by is never lost in pace. As Raya travels on her dragon friend she accumulates a band of benign like-minded peace soldiers including a little boy who runs an eatery on a ship. The characters are interesting as they come from a place of kindness in search of a suitable resting place.
The writing is razor-sharp and the characters, though animated, are so vividly portrayed they seem less fictional than many of the people who populate feature films in India. There is a sense of quiet valour in the way Raya and her team of gumptious soldiers slip from adventure to adventure in seaside cities bustling with people who inhabit a throbbing landscape of constant adventure and thrills.
Bolstered by some brilliantly apt and evocative songs by James Newton Howard (stay till the end to hear the beautiful ballad “Lead The Way”) Raya & The Last Dragon is never a drag despite its running time of 107 minutes (which is unusual for an animation film). It is relentless in its pursuit of sights and sounds that are new vibrant and life-changing. The infectious gusto of this charming film is inescapable. Before you know it, you will be hooked on the adventures of Raya and her endearing friends.
Directed by Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada, Raya And The Last Dragon gets 3 stars!
Image source: Youtube/WaltDisneyAnimationStudios