Hello Crispyverse! So, like any unabashedly nerdy girl, I'm just obsessed with Disney. Maybe it's childhood nostalgia. Maybe it's the gorgeous art direction or creative storytelling. Maybe it's my refusal to accept that I'm 30 years old. Maybe it's Maybelline. I don't know. But what I do know is that when I first heard about this film, I was intrigued. That's why, this week, I'll be reviewing Disney's latest entry into the princess lineup, Raya and the Last Dragon.
Disclaimer: This review is not sponsored by or paid for by the Walt Disney Company or any subsidiaries. Also there are spoilers. Hopefully this disclaimer is sufficient enough for the corporate overlords at Disney.
Raya and the Last Dragon, unlike most Disney features, isn't based on one particular fairytale or myth. Instead, it's based on mixtures of the mythologies and cultures of Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, etc.) We're starting to see more diversity in the Disney Princess lineup. They still have a long way to go in terms of representation, but it's so refreshing to see a non-Eurocentric heroine. The film takes place in the fictional land of Kumandra, with diverse villages dotted about a long, dragon-shaped river. These villages lived in harmony for centuries with dragons, who brought prosperity to the land with their magic. One day, creatures called the Druun appeared, born of human discord. They ravaged the land, turning everything they touched into stone, including the dragons. The last surviving dragon, Sisu, used her magic to create a gem powerful enough to banish the Druun. The five villages (Fang, Talon, Spine, Heart, and Tail) fought over who would get to keep the dragon gem. Kumandra was now split into five countries.
The ancient dragons of Kumandra face off against the Druun. Fast-forward 500 years later, Raya, the princess of the kingdom of Heart, is surprised by her father with the news that the other four kingdoms had been invited in an attempt to reunite the five lands. Raya introduces herself to Namaari, the princess of the Fang kingdom. Thinking her to be a friend, Raya takes Namaari to the vault where the dragon gem is kept. The kingdom of Heart is then ambushed by the Fang army, stealing the dragon gem. Raya and Namaari fight over the gem, breaking it into five pieces. The broken gem results in a swarm of Druun materializing and turning most of the visitors into stone. Raya barely escapes the Druun and begins a life as a fugitive.
Raya finds Sisu, the last dragon in Kumandra.
Six years later, Raya starts on a mission to find Sisu, the last dragon, in the hopes that Sisu can once again drive away the Druun and bring back everyone that had been turned to stone. Having traveled to the desert wasteland of Tail, she finds Sisu, who has been asleep for over 500 years. The two then begin a quest to find the five dragon gem pieces and save the world. I won't spoil the ending, as the movie is still in theaters. But this film has a lot going for it. The story is ultimately about learning to trust. From bridging a gap with an old enemy to putting your faith in a stranger for a cause, Raya goes on a journey that teaches her the difference between trust and naiveté. Yes, trusting someone can be hard, but as Sisu so wisely said, "sometimes you have to take the first step." I also really enjoy the fact that they didn't give Raya a romantic interest, and instead made it more of a story about friendship. Raya could not be further from the "damsel in distress" that we see in movies like 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Raya is independent, takes charge, and doesn't need someone, especially a man, to rescue her. All the characters she meets on her quest work with her, not for her. This film passes the Bechdel test with flying colors, as there is no mention of Raya settling down with a prince. I'm not saying that a princess falling in love and living happily ever after is inherently a bad thing, but it's refreshing to see a departure from the typical Disney princess formula.
Raya confronts Namaari over her quest to find the dragon gem pieces.
I also really liked the message of overcoming prejudice. The five kingdoms have a lot of beef with each other, to say the least which causes prejudices?. 500 years of separation make for bitter enemies. But, again, sometimes you have to take the first step. As Raya travels across the five kingdoms, she learns that the people she meets have more in common with her than not - they've all lost something or someone to the Druun and just want peace. I think that's a great cause to unite behind. My one big critique of this movie is that a lot of the plot feels very similar to Avatar: The Last Airbender. A once united world torn apart by war? Check. An Asian-inspired aesthetic? Check. A sleeping savior who has a bit of growing up to do? Check. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the similarities are glaringly obvious. Overall, I give this movie 4/5 out of Crispy Chicken Wings. Raya is a fantastic role model for girls, and it's refreshing to see Disney get more experimental with the franchise of female characters that's such a staple for them. It's also a great step towards more diverse representation and a great depiction of female independence.