Parents' Guide to

Raya and the Last Dragon

By Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 8+

Charming, epic adventure mixes monsters, humor, heart.

Movie PG 2021 114 minutes
Raya and the Last Dragon Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 6+

Based on 46 parent reviews

age 8+

Well made, generally enjoyable, but poison is mixed in. "Remind me to never have children" ?

First, I say this is disappointing for the deeper messaging under the story, but the story also has a well written plot that follows a familiar archetype. It's the details on further reflection that give me pause. The world, once good, suffered from a corrupting fall that broke the world. Humanity, corrupt from their youth, chose evil. That choice furthered the darkness, corruption, and brokenness of the world. Good stories reflect fundamental truths about the world we live in, and they nailed it in that respect. The sparks of goodness within our hero Raya and her friends restore their world as they restore themselves by learning how to trust. They stake their own fates and the fate of the world on faith in the goodness that the last dragon saw in their mortal enemy. I'll get to that, along with some concerns about harmful ideology they managed to corrupt the story with for anyone with a young daughter that they love. Raya is scarred against trust and goodness early in her character development. Her father plants a seed striving towards goodness in her heart through his own faith towards the good. He believes in the goodness of their enemies, that their kingdom that was once whole and united can once again be restored. Raya tries to emulate this, opening up to a peer from another tribe and inviting her in to see the dragon gem. Naamari betrays her trust, signaling the location of the gem to her tribe so that they can steal it. In the fight that follows, the gem is shattered, and the corruption of the world increases as the druun are let back in to roam the earth and wreck havoc. Raya loses her trust as she loses her father, who sacrifices himself to save Raya. Raya, although she has lost trust in people has not lost trust in the dragons who once protected them. Never losing hope that this damage can be undone and she can once again be reunited with her father, she searches out and finds Sisu the last dragon. They seek out the remaining shards of the dragon gem and ultimately do restore the world through the power of trust. Here is a problem with the messaging on trust. They all place their trust in a character who has proven she is a betrayer not once, but twice. Each time with overwhelmingly destructive consequences. I wouldn't want my daughter to willingly stake her safety in the hands of someone who has continually harmed her. That is a dangerous message to put into the mind of a child. They mix a message about the power of trust in with the poisonous idea that perhaps we should trust those who have repeatedly harmed us and everything will work out for the better. Forgiveness does not mean that we leave ourselves open to further and continual harm. For naami's second mistake, naami insinuates that If only Raya had trusted Naami when she leveled the crossbow at the dragon, perhaps the bolt wouldn't have been fired to kill Sisu? Naami came with the intent to betray, and acted on it, repeating her initial mistake choosing her tribe over the restoration of the world. There should have been a more clear change of heart before that leap was taken, not necessarily for the sake of the myth but for the sake of the children watching this. This is a message of extending unearned and undeserved trust even in the face of death. It really is unfortunate, because in that final moment there is immense power in what is going on. "whoever seeks to preserve their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it". The power of the shattered gem is dying, and everyone is clinging to their shard of the gem in desperation to ward off the druun who are closing in on them. The reality of that situation could arguably be a more pragmatic trust, because without accepting their deaths and extending their trust to their enemy, they would all ultimately perish anyways. but part of the power of the moment is also that the trust and faith they extend to Naami is completely undeserved. Notably, because she initially does attempt to escape rather than completing the gem. In traditional stories that's exactly what would happen. Everyone would perish as a consequence of Naami from start to finish, or Good would have to directly overcome Naami in the process of restoring the world. Disney flips it, and what should have been developed as the evil character chooses good and was always secretly good too. No real villains and no real evil in Modern Disney. Raya is portrayed as a strong heroine with many admirable qualities, but lets consider what these qualities are. She is a strong and fearless warrior who takes action without hesitation or fear. She is courageous and determined. Her martial prowess is formidable. She is assertive and forceful, authoritative over other characters she encounters. A leader. That's great for the few women who become a Joan of Ark, but does that sound like your daughter? Most likely not. Disney continues to take masculine qualities and put them into a female, calling on women to be more like men and calling on men to stop being themselves. In this story everyone essentially embodies the masculine, and there is almost no Feminine representation outside of naami's mother teaching children in their tribe and beaming with pride and love and joy in the moment. That doesn't negate that the writers forced a scene where they have Raya say "Remind me to never have children". If you don't mind that being inserted into your daughter's subconscious as they admire and perhaps imagine emulating this character, then go for it. Otherwise, there are plenty of well written stories without that particular ideology.
age 6+

Beautiful, wondrous, complicated...packs a punch!

My kid had already seen this film (twice with the sitter) before my husband and I were able to watch it with him...and glad we were to view it. A beautiful film about a young woman that learns to have trust in others and how much that strengthens her and the bond with those around her. Raya is a complex heroine with a great sidekick (love that Tuk Tuk). It's a relief to get to the dragon early since it is also the dragon's journey as much as it is Raya's and Namaari's. Looking forward to the inevitable re-watches that comes with having kids (no snark).

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (46 ):
Kids say (93 ):

Equal parts charming, empowering, and epic, this Southeast Asia-inspired adventure introduces the next great Disney warrior princess to join the likes of Moana, Merida, and Mulan. The thorough prologue establishes the world of Kumandra and the battle between the dragons, the humans, and the Druun. Raya and Sisu get a lot of help on their mission from the various locals they incorporate into their circle: young Boun (Izaac Wang), the chef/boat captain from Tail; baby Noi (Thalia Tran), a Talonese pickpocket toddler whose monkey squad will delight younger viewers; and Tong (Benedict Wong), an intimidating but kind warrior from Spine. They band together to protect Sisu (who can shape-shift into a woman who looks more than a little like Awkwafina) and find a way to defeat the Druun.

The movie's bursts of peril and moments of grief are balanced by a lot of levity (little Noi is hilarious, and Sisu, like the comedian who plays her, is irresistibly charming) and heart. Humor is threaded throughout Raya and the Last Dragon, and Tuk Tuk is an adorable animal sidekick. There's no romance in the movie, which focuses instead on the "found family" that Raya and Sisu create with their new friends. Directors Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada, along with the screenwriters Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim, manage to make the characters' orphanhood a touching statement about loss -- it surrounds every character and drives Raya forward to do everything she can to free her father from his stone cage. While this isn't a musical, James Newton Howard's evocative score is fantastic, and the animation is so detailed and stellar that families may find themselves pausing and rewinding just to take in the diversity of landscapes, costumes, and characters. Once again, Disney has managed to take the familiar and make it magical.

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