The sisters are doing it for themselves in the wild, animated wonder ride, “Raya and the Last Dragon.” The film radiates female empowerment and is simultaneously available on March 5 in theaters and on Disney+.
The days are over when a sleeping beauty needed a smooch from a prince to get up and dance to her own drummer.
Take Raya (energetically voiced by Kelly Marie Tran), a warrior princess from the imaginary Southeast Asian land of Kumandra who is on a mission to save her people from being turned to stone. That’s the MO of the evil Druun, fiery blobs with dark tendrils who have made human sculptures of the citizenry, even targeting Raya’s peace-loving dad, Chief Benja (Daniel Dae Kim).
Raya needs help quick! A dragon would be great. But the Druun have rendered the species extinct. Trust Raya to revive Sisu, voiced with teenspeak vivacity and feeling by Awkwafina, a turquoise creature that claims she’s “not the best dragon,” her sisters were better. No matter. You don’t mess with the team of Raya and Sisu. Plus, Sisu does have a dubious superpower: “I’m a really good swimmer,” she says proudly.
She also takes human form when so disposed.
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There’s a lot of backstory to absorb, which may be tough on younger viewers.
A prologue takes us back 500 years in Kumandra history when the Druun began to pulverize the enemy race of humans.
The survivors broke into five tribes — Heart, Fang, Spine, Talon and Tail — with Raya in the Heart section. And, oh yeah, there’s a broken Dragon Gem that needs to be reassembled like the Infinity Stones in Marvel’s “The Avengers.”
Raya’s deceptive friend, Namaari (Gemma Chan), of the Fang realm, holds the key to that mystery.
Don’t worry, kids. There won’t be a test. Just go with the flow.
Working from a script by Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim that brims over with Southeast Aslan cultural references, co-directors Don Hall (“Big Hero 6”) and Carlos Lopez Estrada (“Blindspotting”) sweep you up on waves of martial-arts action and marvelous adventure as Raya and Sisu travel to Kumandra’s five fractured realms rounding up a crew that includes Boun (Izaac Wang), who runs a floating restaurant, Tong (Benedict Wong), a soldier from the decimated Spine province, and a scam-artist infant (Thalia Tran), who barks orders at her army of monkeys.
The team has one goal: to put the Dragon Gem — the movie’s Humpty Dumpty — back together again.
It’s tons of fun to watch Raya ride into battle on an armadillo-bug thingie called Tuk Tuk.
Namaari and her followers use gigantic cats to get around. But the focus of the story is on Raya fighting off her growing sorrow about a world that resists uniting with its enemies to achieve peace and harmony.
The politics never get preachy since the possibilities inherent in hope and trust are embodied by Sisu. And did I mention that there’s no preening, pretty boy prince to save the day? Who needs a dude when there’s girl power to rely on?
“Raya and the Last Dragon” comes at you in a whoosh, like a volcano of creative ideas in full eruption. It’s a thing of beauty that hits home for the kid in all of us who wants to bust out and run free. And, just maybe, change the world. There’s no resisting it.
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