Disney’s “Raya and the Last Dragon” shows potential but feels rushed


Photo Credit - Disney

Raya and the Last Dragon should have been great but constantly feels constrained

Joseph Ferrer, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Debuting on Disney+’s Premiere Access, “Raya and the Last Dragon” has all of the ingredients for a story that should have been fantastic. The film is an action-filled adventure with an interesting world and character concepts as well as fantastic animation. However, Raya’s biggest flaw is that the scope of its story is far too ambitious to fit cohesively into a film with a 2-hour runtime. As a result, the film feels incredibly rushed and never gives proper time to truly explore its world or its characters.  


The film focuses on Raya (Kelly Marie Tran), a lone princess from one of five warring nations on a quest to save the world from ancient monsters known as Druun that turn people to stone. Along the way, Raya meets Sisu (Awkwafina), an ancient water dragon who travels with Raya to each of the nations to help revive her family.   


Raya’s over-ambitiousness can immediately be felt with the film’s premise as the movie starts with a heavy, fast-paced exposition dump to explain its world. There are a lot of moving parts within Raya’s story but the movie moves so fast to focus on its MacGuffin-centered plot that there isn’t enough time to fully explore any of the story’s elements individually. This is a great shame, especially because the world that Raya is trying to present is genuinely interesting.  


For example, much of the world and its characters revolve around dealing with the petrifying Druun monsters which are weak to water. The movie presents compelling ideas using these concepts such as a character who never leaves his boat after his family turned to stone or a kingdom surrounded by a canal for protection that struggles for resources due to their expanding population. These ideas are unfortunately only lightly touched upon as there isn’t enough time to fully explore them at an individual level.  


The film’s excessive ambition negatively affects its characters and script as well. Raya is an engaging protagonist and her journey of learning how to trust others has a good message but her important character moments happen so quickly that the script constantly has to state aloud the film’s message of trust instead of giving time to let each moment speak for itself. As a result, the whole film suffers from telling the viewer information rather than showing it. Raya and the rest of the cast’s dialogue and interactions are also so brief that while they are enjoyable, there isn’t enough time to properly come to love them like with other Disney films.  


The script also has the issue of being overly modern. Characters frequently talk and use phrases that relate to the real world but feel incredibly out of place in the ancient setting of the film. While the film was marketed as representing Southeast Asian cultures, the film doesn’t do a great job of making that clear. This can especially be felt with Sisu’s character design which looks more like a highly marketable animal mascot rather than an actual Southeastern Asian dragon. 

Despite the issues with its narrative, Raya is beautifully animated and one of Disney Animation’s prettiest films. Fight scenes are energetically choreographed and the environments look stunning and unique during the brief amount of time the plot allows Raya to explore them.   


Ultimately, “Raya and the Last Dragon” is a story that would have worked far better in a medium suited to long-form storytelling such as a series as that would have let it properly flesh out its ideas. While it can be enjoyable, it is not worth the extra $30 alongside a Disney+ subscription to see.