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SYFY WIRE reviews

Raya and the Last Dragon reviews hail 'timely' and 'near-perfect' spotlight for Disney's first Southeast Asian princess

By Josh Weiss
Raya and the Last Dragon

It sounds like Disney has another rousing critical hit on its hands with Raya and the Last Dragon. Simultaneously hitting theaters and Disney+ Premier Access this coming Friday (March 5), the latest effort from Disney Animation features the studio's first princess of Southeast Asian descent (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran). In fact, the entire cast is almost entirely composed of Asian actors like Awkwafina, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Sandrah Oh, and Gemma Chan. 

"That’s not something we see enough of," writes Josh Wilding in their review, "and these characters are never stereotypes, cardboard cut-outs, or what some might expect given past experience. Like the movie itself, they’re wonderfully realised, believable creations." 

Wilding's ultimate takeaway is that Raya is "a near-perfect mix of delightful visuals and fantasy storytelling."

Set in the fictional — and fractured — kingdom of Kumandra, the film centers around Raya (Tran), a young princess and warrior who must track down the titular last dragon named Sisu (Awkwafina) after a plauge called the "Drunn" turns her loved ones to stone. Along for the epic journey is Tuk Tuk (Alan Tudyk), Raya's trusty bug/bear steed; Tong (Benedict Wong), an imposing warrior with a heart of gold; Boun (Izaac Wang), a savvy and hyperactive entrepreneur; and Noi (Thalia Tran), a baby con artist.

"A lot of the storytelling is clumsy, rushed or inelegant, but the movie’s timely message of unity and trust still resonates because the filmmakers figured out such a satisfying ending — albeit one that ties things up a little too neatly: so much world-building in service of a one-off," states Peter Debruge on behalf of Variety

The Hollywood Reporter's Inkoo Kang says that "Raya and the Last Dragon occasionally crawls, but most of the time it’s got urgency and momentum to spare. Just as impressively, it builds to a deeply moving climax whose resolution is unexpected yet consummate. This is a film that knows how to soar."

In their B+ review for IndieWire, Kate Erbland posits that the film is a classic in the making. "As the Disney princess brand has continued to evolve, from the introduction of newbies like Moana to the continuing popularity of classics like Tiana and Mulan, Raya and the Last Dragon is a sterling example of how the trope still has room to grow — while proving that some of the original ingredients can still deliver the goods."

Giving the film a near-perfect rating of 4/5 stars, Empire Magazine adds that while some plot beats feel derivative, Raya is still a refreshing and welcome piece of escapism in our current times. "Frequently breathtaking, from the photoreal water effects to Sisu’s shimmering, purple-pink mane. And with its cleanly delivered thread about creating unity and learning to trust one another again, Raya is perfectly timed for the Biden-Harris era. If there’s a hero we need right now, it’s one who kicks ass with kindness."

/FILM praises Tran's voiceover performance as "perfect ... imbuing a casual coolness to the prickly character, unleashes a frightening rage during the battle scenes that feel raw and unhinged in a way that Disney has rarely felt." 

Collider's Matt Goldberg describes Awkwafina's vocal performance as "terrific" and writes that "once the movie is able to settle into its quest structure of traveling to a new land, making a new ally, and finding a piece, Raya thrives as an action quest movie that never slows down. In this action mold, Raya and the Last Dragon is an immensely fun and entertaining film even if its theme about trust falls a little flat."

Like Disney's live-action remake of Mulan, Raya and the Last Dragon will be available to stream on Disney+ for a "Premier Access" fee. The animated feature was co-directed by Don Hall (Big Hero 6) and Carlos López Estrada (Legion). Qui Nguyen (The Society) and Adele Lim (Crazy Rich Asians) wrote the screenplay.