Aronne Ibarra’s review published on Letterboxd:
Reminded myself not to bet on Disney to produce something original, but sometimes you just have to see the newest hit in town for participation points. Yet another formulaic entry into the Disney world tour, this time island-hopping in Southeast Asia, Raya and the Last Dragon is the same film you've seen over and over from the Mouse disguised as an adventurous tale of trust and understanding. I'm just thankful I didn't get my hopes up for this one.
I gladly welcome all of my country's cultural representation in international films, but I don't really care about them. Raya, announced to be the studio's first chiefly-Southeast Asian film, did not excite me too much. It's an amalgamation of different SEA cultures anyway so there's no clear definition of which is Indonesian, Malaysian, Thai, Vietnamese, or Filipino anyway. To give Raya credit, it does very well in worldbuilding. The characters and the story, not so much.
So this is basically the same animated Disney movie for the last six to eight years. With tropes like the opening "how did we get here" exposition dump, the companion animal, the unmissable and essential dead parent, the twist villain who has a change of heart at the end, the unexpectedly silly dumb and mischievous sidekick with a sad backstory, and the band of misfits, Raya quickly turned me off. "Of course the dragon was supposed to be like that!", I said to myself in frustration, as if I was expecting something else. A predictable climax and underdeveloped characters didn't help so much either.
Absolutely hated that they had to say the word "trust" a million times as if we don't get what it's about. It got on my nerves after the first three repetitions. The film is blatantly political to keep up with current events while teaching a lesson or two to kids who aren't aware that all of this is just a call for globalism and capitalism that a mega-company like Disney would very much like. Maybe that's a half-joke but I see what you're implying Disney, you and your house pest of a mascot. Screw you demanding thirty dollars for unoriginal content like this. On the topic of political and economical world divide, of trust and leadership, I've seen a better animation studio do it. Try guessing, you mice-headed maggots.
Do I hate Disney that much? Oh I'm sorry. Some of the things I liked about this mediocrity are the visuals, the animation, the action, and James Newton Howard's musical score. That's about it. The artificial lighting looks great, the character design is pretty cool, the dystopian sets are atmospheric, the colors pop, and Raya is a babe. Animation itself is fluid and I don't have any complaints with the 3D except for young Raya's model early in the film. A more comic book style is used for fantasy exposition sequences and they look very good, too. The action and the fighting are fast-paced like a video game and quite fun. This would've been nice to see in a theatre but I doubt it would better the overall quality and experience.
Kelly Marie Tran did a fantastic voice acting job for the lead character and so did Gemma Chan for the main antagonist. Other notable talents who lent their voice were Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, and Sandra Oh. Now, Awkwafina is typically funny. She's great and she does her best as the titular dragon Sisu here, but damn the script was lacking. It was not funny; I didn't smile even once. Awkwafina did her best, I enjoyed her performance, may she have better scripts and a successful voice acting career ahead.
Well that was negative! Raya and the Last Dragon wasn't exactly a film I was anticipating but I was still somehow let down. How does that even happen? A visually and technically fine rather but standard adventure with underwhelming plot and characters. In other words, it's a moderately-artistic cash grab. If you really want to see it yourself and you enjoy the Disney formula, who am I to stop you? A weak recommendation, that is all.
Keep the mice out of your homes and let a big, furry, forest creature inside instead *wink wink*. Thanks for reading the latest movie rant and stay safe out there-- they're trying to get your money! Someone stop me from rightfully bashing this evil company! Anyway, I hope you enjoy your day and take care, everyone!