Raya and the Last Dragon review: Disney at its most beautiful and its most bland
Disney's latest movie will be available to watch at home this week.
Whether we've noticed it or not, the non-Pixar movies coming from Disney have been almost consistently brilliant for the last decade.
Since 2010, this is what they've released to the world: Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6, Zootropolis, Moana, Ralph Breaks The Internet, and Frozen II. The movies are either huge box office hits, huge critical hits, or (more often than not) both.
Which is why it is totally okay for Disney to make a misstep every now and then, and while Raya and the Last Dragon isn't an out-and-out dud, it certainly does feel like the Mouse House at its least imaginative.
We dive in deep with over 500 years of exposition to get through: Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) is the latest member of a group of soldiers who defend a powerful gem that was left behind by the last of the dragons, created to hold back clouds of evil known as the Druun.
When Raya trusts Namaari (Gemma Chan), who breaks the gem, allowing warring clans to grab fragments of it for themselves, the Druun is freed, and immediately set about turning any humans they come into contact with to stone, including Raya's overly-trusting father Banja (Daniel Dae-Kim).
Raya heads off on a years-long journey, hoping to resurrect one of the last dragons, which is how we're introduced to Sisu (Awkwafina). Together, they try to recover all of the fragments of the gem, fight back the Druun once and for all, and unite the factions of their fractured land.
So what we've got is a strong-willed female protagonist, paired with a mythical creature, trying to use a mystical stone to save the world from a nefarious, smoke'y villain. Yep, there is more than a passing resemblance to the plot of Moana, but the fantastic musical numbers of that movie are replaced here by decent if same-y action sequences.
The central theme of the importance of trust, even if you've had that trust broken, is an important one, but it too often seems pushed to the sidelines in order for the movie to introduce another supporting character/merchandising opportunity. These include but are not limited to an adorable giant armadillo, a con-artist baby and her gang of monkeys, a very young chef who also doubles as a boat captain, and broken-hearted warrior.
Then we've got Sisu herself, with Awkwafina providing moments of comedic respite, but falling short of Disney's previous fast-talking dragon, when Eddie Murphy nailed his role in Mulan. However, the dragon does provide a gateway for the animators to come up with some gorgeous visuals, with Sisu learning some new powers every few scenes, all set against a constantly changing backdrop of different parts of Raya's homeland, from bustling waterfront cities to completely abandoned desert villages.
Much like Meryl Streep's performances in everything, it can be sometimes all too easy to overlook the impeccably high bar that Disney sets for itself. This is an absolutely beautiful film, one that would only benefit from a big screen viewing.
But the world being what it is right now, it will simply have to make do with being a diverting if not exactly memorable way to spend two hours.
Raya and the Last Dragon is available with Premier Access on Disney+ from Friday, 5 March.
Clip via Disney Ireland