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'Raya and the Last Dragon' Review | Sweet yet fleeting Disney adventure lacks substance

When you put out wonderful content on a yearly basis, one begins to expect more from Disney. "Raya" wasn't a miss, but sits far from a home run.
Credit: DISNEY
Raya seeks the help of the legendary dragon, Sisu. Seeing what’s become of Kumandra, Sisu commits to helping Raya fulfill her mission in reuniting the lands. Featuring Kelly Marie Tran as the voice of Raya and Awkwafina as the voice of Sisu, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Raya and the Last Dragon” will be in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access on March 5, 2021. © 2021 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

ST. LOUIS — When "Raya and the Last Dragon" ended, I felt like thanking the filmmakers (there are four of them total), and asking them if that's all the story there was to tell.

While the latest Disney adventure is sweet-natured and goes down easy like a cup of coffee on a cold, productive morning, there was something in me that left the theater wanting and frankly, quickly forgetting what I had just seen.

I experienced the same sensation with 2020's "Mulan," a film that had style and some flash, but lacked the real substance to make you think about it a day, or even a couple of weeks, later. That's what I call "staying power" for a movie, one that doesn't quite let go when the credits roll. That doesn't mean "Raya" is a worthless endeavor.

Here's the thing. Kids will love this movie. Teens will like it. Parents will laugh a few times and probably consume it like a normal tub of buttered popcorn. An extra beer may be required, but I wouldn't classify this film as a hard or mediocre watch. When it comes to Disney, you just expect more.

So, what's it all about? A young, lone warrior (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) is tasked with saving her land and warding off an evil pack of monsters called the Drunn. You see, long ago, humans and dragons lived in complete harmony (huh), but the dragons had to lay down their lives in order to keep the antagonists at bay. Apparently, that didn't work so well, and it's up to the warrior and the LAST DRAGON to save the day. Did I mention she's sort of an outcast in town and everybody tells her how unlikely it is that they will succeed? All of that and some extra sugar too.

Awkwafina makes the film worthwhile. Out of all the voice work in the film, including Benedict Wong and Gemma Chan, it's the comedian-actress that shines the most. The Stony Brook, New York native just knows how to deliver a comedic line and make the audience laugh. There's a great joke about only returning part of a lost creature that made me laugh out loud suddenly.

The film direly needed more of that type of humor. Something to break the doldrums loose that just another Disney adventure was taking place. You can be magical and stylish, but if nothing really sticks out, it's just another mundane experience. This one felt like more of a cash grab, and less of a true introspection into Raya and her fight, if there was anything beneath the surface to explore. As a fellow film buff and Disney fan named A.J. said after the film, more was expected. More depth or meaning.

On the surface, "Raya and the Last Dragon" is just fine, and will please casual film fans and satisfy the little ones-but on a weight level, there isn't much new going on here. Gemstones, dragons, monsters, land, legacies, and the day to be saved.

Is it bad that I wanted more here?

Bottom Line: Disney didn't exactly strike out with "Raya." It checks enough of the boxes-but if some fans were let down by "Onward," they may be searching here as well. It's not "Artemis Fowl" level bad, but outside of the overly sweet nature of the story and decent visuals, there's a fleeting desire to this film that just didn't allow it to resonate. Passable Disney fare.