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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Raya and the Last Dragon is an animated Disney adventure about a warrior princess on a mission. Set in the fictional land of Kumandra but based on real Southeast Asian cultures, the movie follows Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran), who for years has tried to find a way to reverse a scary, curse-like plague known as the Druun, which takes the form of relentless purple-and-black blob monsters and turns anyone it touches into stone. Awkwafina co-stars as the voice of Sisu, the last surviving dragon, whom Raya recruits to help in her quest. Grief is a major theme of the movie, and several characters talk about the loved ones taken by the Druun, including children who've lost parents and entire families. Scary sequences involve characters fleeing for their lives from various dangerous situations, including both human enemies and the Druun. There are intense close-up fights with swords/blades, and a skeleton is visible in one sequence. In another scene (spoiler alert), a main character is struck by an arrow and presumed dead. In one very emotional scene, characters willingly sacrifice themselves to the Druun; young viewers may believe they're dead. The movie emphasizes the importance of trusting others and overcoming prejudice to find common ground. And Raya is a standout role model who exhibits courage, teamwork, and perseverance.
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What's the story?
RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON begins with Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) narrating the history of Kumandra, a once prosperous land where powerful dragons co-existed with humans until the Druun, a plague-like enemy that manifests as relentless purple-and-black blob monsters, started turning everyone to stone. The dragons fought together to save humanity but eventually they, too, were lost -- except for Sisu, who concentrated all of the dragons' power into an all-powerful gem and defeated the Druun. Her action revived all of the humans, but the dragons remained suspended in stone ... except, legend says, for Sisu. Years later, Kumandra has fragmented into five regions -- Heart, Tail, Talon, Spine, and Fang -- who are hostile to and suspicious of each other. Raya, the princess of Heart (which is where Sisu's gem is kept), and her father, Chief Benja (Daniel Dae Kim), invite the leaders of the other regions to Heart for a peace summit. But it turns into an all-out war when the Fang leader (Sandra Oh) and her daughter (Gemma Chan) make a play for Sisu's gem. It breaks into five pieces (each of which is swiped by one of the leaders), unleashing the Druun, which turn Chief Benja into stone. Six years later, Raya and her beloved sidekick Tuk Tuk (Alan Tudyk), a giant pill bug, are on a mission to find Sisu and reunite the gem pieces. They succeed in finding Sisu (Awkwafina), who's sassy, sweet, and optimistic. Together they travel to the rest of Kumandra's regions, teaming up with locals from each as they work to stop the Druun once and for all.
Is it any good?
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Most of the movie's main characters are female, and all of them are based on Southeast Asian traditions. Why is it important to see a wide range of representation in the media?
The filmmakers have said that the movie was inspired by many real-life Southeast Asian cultures and traditions. Did you notice any in particular? Why do you think they would choose to set it in a fictional country over a real one?
How do the different characters handle their grief at losing loved ones? Have you ever lost someone close to you? How did you react?
- In theaters: March 5, 2021
- On DVD or streaming: April 2, 2021
- Cast: Awkwafina, Kelly Marie Tran, Gemma Chan
- Director: Don Hall
- Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models
- Character strengths: Courage, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 114 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some violence, action and thematic elements
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: June 6, 2021
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