Raya and the Last Dragon Review (Mild Spoilers)


Bhoomi Sharma, Photography Editor

In the distance, a lone warrior travels through the desert. She wears her hair down with a salakót to protect from the heat, and she looks beautiful.  This is Raya, the main character of  Disney’s latest animated film, “Raya and the Last Dragon.” It was released on Mar. 5, 2021 on Disney+, however, until Jun. 5, subscribers will need to pay $30 to watch it.


The movie is based on a blend of Southeast Asian cultures, so it brings much needed diversity to Disney’s catalog of films. In terms of representation though, this movie is not perfect. Asia is already viewed by the rest of the world as  a singular country with a monolithic culture, when in fact it is a collection of more than 40 countries and 2000 languages. Southeast Asia specifically also isn’t one country, and media  should stop displaying it as such. But the bar is so low that the fact they showed positive representation of Southeast Asia at all makes me want to say “eh good enough” and lean back.


 Along with that slight, there is the issue of the lack of diversity in the voice actors. Most of them were East Asian as opposed to South East Asian, and too many of them were light skinned. This distinction matters. East Asia would consist of countries like China, Japan, Mongolia and Taiwan, while South East Asia consist of countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines. If the story directly takes inspiration from South East Asia, then Disney should have hired voice actors from there as well. 


I have also added some links at the bottom to reviews by South East Asians. As an audience, it’s important that those voices are heard just as loud as people who are not part of the community. These videos are linked below to watch after reading this review.


Issues aside, the plot of this film is beautiful. It is about extending a hand to help, and then keeping that hand extended and coming together in times of pain and turmoil. It has a theme of trust that is well-developed and beautifully conveyed throughout. 


The Last Dragon, who the movie’s title refers to, is named Sisu, voiced by Akwafina, and Raya, voiced by Kelly Marie Tran, have completely opposing views on trust. Both have trauma that affects how they trust, and it’s incredibly well-explored. 


An essential part of any quest is a found family and “Raya and the Last Dragon” doesn’t disappoint. This family is a little more bizarre than most, what with a talking dragon and a con baby, but it does the job nevertheless. It’s a group of ragtag adults and children together on a boat, emphasizing the people the villainous force, called the Druun, has hurt. 


I also really enjoyed the  friendship between Raya and Namaari, the daughter of the chief of the Fang nation. I thought it would lead to a love story, but that would have been overestimating Disney’s progressivism. There was a lot of lesbian subtext, but I don’t know why I expected Disney to actually have a lesbian love story when they have stricly refused to feature LGBT+ stories in the past.


Namaari and Raya have a complicated relationship throughout the movie. The audience follows them from the beginnings of their friendship to the way it changes to a sort of rivalship. I loved the message of trust in the movie, and that it explored strong friendships and how deep betrayals can cut.


Namaari is a well-developed character, struggling to find her own place as a leader and choosing between tradition and her own moral compass. Her actions in the past harmed the world, but she learns to forgive herself and move forward. I think there’s a good lesson there with both Namaari and Raya: Learn to trust not only others, but yourself, even after you make the most grievous of mistakes.


The two women have wonderful banter along their adventure, and I think the movie is worth watching for that alone. Not to mention the beautiful final combat scene. Disney’s animation is always stellar, but something about the final showdown stays in my head, even a week after.


The Cultural Inspirations in Raya and the Last Dragon 

What’s “WRONG” with Disney’s ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’?

An Honest Raya & The Last Dragon Movie Review from a Southeast Asian