Save your $30 from “Raya and the Last Dragon”


Photo courtesy of Disney

“Raya and the Last Dragon,” released on March 5, is locked behind a $30 paywall on top of an ordinary Disney+ fee.

Aidan Hay, Staff Reporter

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ new feature animated film “Raya and the Last Dragon” left me disappointed and just generally confused. A standard Disney+ subscription isn’t going to cut it either; in order to watch this movie, you have to pay a $30 premium on top of the regular subscription fee. This film was released the same day as “WandaVision”’s finale, a popular show on the same platform, leading me to believe that Disney felt especially confident in this movie. But even if that was so, this feels like one of the weaker films in their animated lineup. If you’re really interested in watching an animated film, I suggest you try another movie.


In the movie, Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) explores the vast deserts of Kumandra for shards of a dragon gem to save the valley from an evil species of monsters resurrected from the dead called Druun. She uses one of the shards to summon the last dragon known to be alive, Sisu (Awkwafina), to aid her in her journey. Along the way, they meet other characters from various tribes in the valley, such as Boun, a young boy who owns a boat the characters use to travel, Tong, a hulking warrior with a kind heart and Noi, an infant who teams up with creatures resembling monkeys to trick and steal from passerbyers.


Considering “Raya and the Last Dragon”  is the animation studio’s first original movie since “Moana” was released way back in 2016, I can see why some aspects of the movie could have fallen through the cracks. The animation, world-building and character design — details that I have enjoyed in all other Disney films, are all amazing. I particularly enjoyed the designs for the titular last dragon, Sisu, who gains a grab bag of abilities and powers as the story progresses. It’s interesting seeing a dragon without wings, and the way she seamlessly walks through the air never looks out of place. The water effects look really nice, and the vibrant colors of the dragons all pop. The score, by James Newton Howard, is also pretty great! It is mystical and foreboding but also upbeat and magical throughout the whole movie. The vast deserts and bustling towns of Kumandra all look distinct, but never clash in art style, and all fit well with the aforementioned score.


The part of “Raya and the Last Dragon” that upset me most is arguably the most important part of a movie: the plot line. While I enjoy the designs for most of the characters, Tong and Sisu especially, the writing and structure of the story gives the characters little time to develop. The movie is so fast-paced that it feels like it’s jumping from one scene to another with almost no breaks in between or character interaction in between. I feel like there should have been fewer side characters to instead focus on the development of the main ones. Raya and her childhood friend-turned-villain, Namaari, have almost no chemistry together. Considering their friendship — and eventual split — is the start of Raya’s character arc in this story, I feel like there should have been more heartfelt moments between them to better understand their rivalry and underlying friendship.


The main idea of Raya’s arc is that she needs to learn to trust people because her split with Namaari left her feeling betrayed. While this message could be interesting, it feels forced. Almost every time the characters bring it up, it feels like they’re forcing it down our throats. Raya constantly tells other characters to not trust anybody and to always stay alert, which comes across as juvenile. Making Raya reserved could’ve been displayed in a dialogue between characters. When Raya is forced to work with people, she is apprehensive at first, but as the story progresses, she  warms up to the others. And yes, I do understand that this movie was produced with children in mind, but part of what goes into making a good movie is making it nuanced enough for kids and adults to understand the message, while not being blatantly obvious. Movies released recently on Disney+ did this quite well, such as Pixar’s “Soul,” which is why it is even more disappointing to see this movie be so one-dimensional in terms of its audience.


One of my biggest issues with the film is the character Sisu. The dragon serves as a comic relief for the rest of the cast, and while that isn’t inherently bad, it comes with the caveat that the character has to be genuinely funny. In Sisu’s case, she makes references and forced jokes that make her annoying above all else. Sisu’s direction isn’t great either, the way Awkwafina played her makes Sisu, at best, an annoying character, and at worst, an unbearable one. After a certain point in the film, Sisu gains the ability to shape-shift, and she shifts into an old lady whose mannerisms and design do not fit the way Awkwafina is playing her. Instead of constantly being at the same vocal level and same energy, maybe there should have been more direction for Awkwafina. Maybe in the scenes where Sisu plays an old lady, the energy should have been lower or even just Sisu’s energy overall as the story progresses to show that the journey has been treacherous and is ramping up in stakes.


This movie frustrates me because the animators and designers did such a great job creating this world, but because of the fast pacing, I didn’t get nearly enough time to experience it all. The movie would be remarkably better if it had a slower pace to allow for more character interaction and allowed us to see every detail of each environment, which would be possible if the writers had cut out unnecessary characters, like Noi, who takes up so much screen time and has very little to do in the story as a whole. While “Raya and the Last Dragon” has the potential for a great movie, it consistently misses the mark, and unless you’re dying to watch it, I’d recommend just waiting for the movie to drop to regular access — it’s not worth the extra money.