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‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ surprises with its unique world

By Mason Kupiainen After a year without many blockbusters, it seems like studios are being forced to start releasing their more high-profile works. Warner Brothers has been doing this recently with films like Wonder Woman 1984, The Little Things, and Tom & Jerry. Now, Disney follows Warner Bros.’s similar concept of releasing films on their streaming services on the same day they drop in theaters. However, Disney is taking a different approach by including a premium charge on top of requiring a subscription to their service. Raya and the Last Dragon takes place in a fantasy land where humans and dragons once cohabited together. Once monsters began turning humans and dragons into stone, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. An orb that protected humanity from the monsters after the dragons left is broken, and it’s up to Raya to go on a journey to find the last dragon.

Worldbuilding

Image from Time Magazine
Right from the beginning, the movie presents a world with deep and rich mythology with the likes of Avatar: The Last Airbender or even Game of Thrones. This starts the film off on the right note since you understand that there is much to know about this world beyond what’s being told for the sake of the story, adding to the interest of the film. The design of the dragons are not as interesting or cool-looking as the ones in other fantasy works, but they are unique. With their long, fur-covered bodies and having the ability to swim, they’re unlike any of the stereotypical dragons.  The animation of the film is also breathtaking. The unique world the filmmakers created is unlike anything Disney has created so far, and allowed them to have beautiful landscapes that look as if you could have made a poster out of any shot. Since the film is a fantasy, there are many action sequences with various swords and other weapons. These action sequences are some of, if not, the best action scenes presented in animation. The movement of the characters is flawless and is as exciting as any other action film. 

Too Disney

Image from IGN
Although the film is distinctive from any other Disney film based on its appearance, its story is the typical cookie-cutter formula. From the main character having parent problems, the typical Disney villain, and a humorous side character, it’s almost like the creators were checking off all the boxes. If every Disney film were lined up and analyzed, all their plotlines and stories would follow a typical formula that has worked for Disney all these years. However, it feels tired and stale at this point. Without getting into spoilers, it would have been interesting to see them try something different with the characters’ arcs, especially the villains. There are also some shocking moments throughout the film that would have been interesting to see them follow through with it, but instead, they go through your typical good versus evil story. Some of the reasons for the stereotypical formula can be brushed off as Disney trying to keep the film kid-friendly. However, some of the action and character arcs are mature, so it would have been interesting to see Disney push the limits, possibly making a PG-13 film. Adding in more extreme violence and language wouldn't improve the film, but possibly making the action edgier, removing the cute creature designs, and pushing the mature themes more could have made this an excellent film. However, I highly doubt the day will come when Disney releases a mature animated film, which is disappointing.  Beyond the Disney formula, the film seems to take elements from various other properties, especially The Last Airbender, Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider, and Dragon Ball. This can lead the film to feel familiar and unoriginal, but it does a fine job taking these elements and adding its own twist. However, there are also times where it felt too similar to these other properties. For example, the film’s beginning has a scene that feels like it was taken straight out of Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider. During this scene, the main character’s design looked too similar to the lead character’s design from Legend of Korra. This feels as if the creators were trying to copy the success of other movies and series. There is nothing wrong with taking inspiration from other things, but there is a difference between being inspired and stealing.
Sources: Variety, The Verge Images: Time Magazine, IGN Featured Image: Yahoo News

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