FILM REVIEW: RAYA & THE LAST DRAGON (PG) ESP RATING: 4.5/5
Big screen entertainment is back at the cinema in Peterborough and ESP’s film critic Gavin Miller couldn’t wait to get back and catch the latest new releases…
One of the biggest cinematic scandals of the year would be if this breathtaking Disney animation doesn’t find an audience.
Disney’s own animation studios now regularly competes with its sister Pixar division – and this original tale is really pretty amazing.
Due to Covid it has come in a little under the radar – and has been available on Disney Plus Premium Access for twenty quid for the past month or so – but with cinemas now having re-opened it deserves to be noticed.
But while most kids will be choosing the iconic British character of Peter Rabbit (with its perfectly serviceable sequel) as their family go-to in the coming weeks – with little fanfare this could sadly just fizzle out despite being a pound-for-pound far superior product.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi’s Kelly Marie Tran voices young woman Raya, one of the few survivors of a dystopian oriental-inspired setting, after the prosperous land of Kumandra has been ravaged by the Druun – evil spirits that turn humans to stone.
Many eons ago the land’s people used to be protected by majestical dragons, but they combined their powers into a magical gem to banish the Druun to make life thrive once again – sacrificing themselves in the process.
Now with the tribes separated into five settlements – Heart, Spine, Talon, Tail and Fang – across the dragon-shaped river, Raya’s father Chief Benja (Lost’s Daniel Dae Kim) of Heart, wants to re-unite the tribes once again, with them all wary of each other.
But Heart houses the iconic gem, and when Raya (now officially a Guardian of the Gem) gets double-crossed by Princess Namaari (Gemma Chan), daughter of Fang tribe leader Chieftess Virana (Sandra Oh), the powerful stone gets shattered into five pieces (each tribe taking a piece) after a major temple scuffle – and the Druun is awakened once again.
To make matters worse, a wounded Benja is turned to stone, and six years later Raya is still hunting for the mythical last dragon to try and restore balance to the world – with Namaari never too far behind.
Fortunately, at the river’s end – with her trusty steed part-Armadillo, part-Pill Bug, Tuk Tuk in tow – she brings back the legendary last dragon Sisu, (Ocean’s Eight’s sharp-tongued Awkwafina, who is a tad underused but brings humorous elements to proceedings) – who can possess the powers of her siblings.
Along the way they pick up some lovable companions – charismatic ten-year-old entrepreneur Boun (Izaac Wang), kind-hearted warrior Tong (Doctor Strange’s Benedict Wong) and adorable ‘con baby’ Noi and her trio of monkey-like companions – as they look to venture to each tribal home to put the pieces of the gem back together. Even with Namaari’s mother wanting it for Fang alone.
But it’s the eclectic mix of superbly-voiced characters – that you actually care for – alongside gorgeous animation and engaging (if a touch familiar) story, that really makes this one of Disney’s best.
It does steal a little bit from Frozen and Moana – which is hardly a bad thing – but this once again proves Disney hasn’t lost the knack of churning out their classic winning formula.
It’s still as reliable as ever – even in 2021.
ESP Rating: 4.5/5
Showcase Cinema De Lux Peterborough
Voice Cast: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Izaac Wang, Benedict Wong, Sandra Oh, Alan Tudyk, Jona Kiao & Daniel Dae Kim
Running Time: 1 Hr 47 Mins
Directors: Don Hall & Carlos Lopez Estrada
Go to www.showcasecinemas.co.uk for all the latest film information & showtimes at Peterborough’s Showcase Cinema De Lux