Arley Sorg and Josh Pearce discuss Raya and the Last Dragon – locus online
Five hundred years before the start of Raya and the last dragon, the vibrant land of Kumandra is under attack by the Druun, monsters who turn their victims to stone. Kumandra’s Guardian Dragons unite to defeat the Druun, but in doing so, they are petrified, leaving behind only a magical gem imbued with their power.
In the struggle for control over the power of the dragons, Kumandra splits into five tribes – Heart, Fang, Spine, Tail, and Talon, each with distinct geographies – and each tribe takes a piece of the gem for itself. Then the Druun come back.
Josh: What an amazing world they’ve built! Using Southeast Asian culture, folklore, and stories that we don’t often find in traditional fantasy, which was really nice to see. I ended up comparing it to Forward, since this was the last genre of Pixar high fantasy film we reviewed, and I love Rayabuilt a lot more people, but I still find Forwardthe emotional impact is stronger.
Arley: I thought Raya was good. It was okay. He didn’t have that emotional blow like Up. I would call it a good movie, if it had a more emotional story. Like, it’s well built, it’s well written, all the pieces are there but it doesn’t quite click. But, you know, I’m glad I watched it.
Now Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) is on a quest to locate the last dragon, Sisu (Awkwafina), recover the Gem Shards, and restore the Earth to its former health. She is accompanied by her trusty pet / steed, Tuk Tuk (Alan Tudyk), and pursued by the warrior princess Namaari (Gemma Chan) and the soldiers of the Fang tribe.
Exploring wrecks, looting temples, and perusing night markets, Raya assembles a team of orphans and misfits to help her, including a boy named Boun (Izaac Wang), a baby (Thalia Tran) with his own gang of pickpocket monkeys and warlord Tong (Benoît Wong). They are all from different tribes, but they have all lost someone to the Druun, and while the message of friendship and unity may be obvious to us the public, it is actually less obvious to people. in the mud, surrounded by tragedy.
Arley: There are writers from hell on this movie, and when I saw so many names I was surprised it wasn’t more of a mess, because usually a lot of cooks in the kitchen go all out. spoil.
Josh: Yeah, it was a pretty consistent plot and didn’t leave a lot of gaps. It was pretty predictable from the start: they tell Raya that she’s the last keeper of the stone and I thought, okay, well, she’s going to ruin everything somehow and will have to go on a trip to redeem himself. You can see the betrayals coming a mile away, etc.
Arley: It might impact having all these cooks in the kitchen, because I felt like it ticked those boxes, but it didn’t hit the grades. Okay, we’ve got the single dad, we’ve got the family stuff, we’ve got the save my people stuff. So they put the themes in place at the start and carried it all the way to the middle, but it didn’t feel like a revelation, it didn’t feel like an “aha” moment. They handled the themes correctly, stitching them up at the end, as they should.
Josh: He is a Disney movie – I don’t expect them to take a lot of risks, story-wise. One interesting thing they did was set up the ending to lean on the antagonist, so the villain’s journey was almost as important as the hero’s. Everyone in this movie sees themselves as the right guy, they all have understandable motives, and there’s this relentless outside threat that comes for everyone, so there weren’t just cardboard villains at the bottom.
There are many elements to recommend the film: the humor is good, the Indiana Jones-Style antics are fun (Raya’s Whip Sword, in particular, is awesome), there are strong female roles, and some of the sets are gorgeous. It naturally leans towards a younger audience, but older viewers will always appreciate it. Tuk Tuk, a kind of cross between an armadillo and an armadillo, is just one of the many small details that make up a unique fantasy world.
The story avoids falling into a monotonous quest narrative – travel here, collect the gem, travel to the next location, collect the gem – as each location features its own mini-arc, with different solutions to problems varied. It never becomes a series of video game checkpoints, and each added quest party member contributes vitally.
Josh: My wife’s favorite character was the baby.
Arley: Yeah, I liked the baby! But I was also aware of the fact that I was being manipulated by the baby as a character. Which didn’t bother me. It’s like baby Yoda. It’s good, it’s cute. Now you’re just playing with my emotions, it’s okay. You only sell toys. However, the animation in general is a highlight, it’s just really awesome. I like the expressions, the color schemes. I love the textures of the dragons. Sisu even looks like Awkwafina when she changes her form. Having said that, for all of Awkwafina’s work, this is probably one of my favorite performances.
Josh: This is probably one of my favorite Alan Tudyk performances.
Arley: Even enemy creatures were cool. The basic look is familiar, but then they added this thing where when they move they sort of stretch and everything is stringy. Throughout the movie, there are these little embellishments that made things really interesting.
Josh: One of my only gripes was that when they showed the scenes with all the dragons, I think it was during the crystal formation, and they were all multicolored, I thought: My little Pony right now. ”It was a bit too flashy, like it almost belonged to another movie or series.
Arley: To me, the scene where Sisu pushes the Druun away looks like a modern semen sex education video. I’m not even kidding. I’m like, it looks like semen flying through the screen. Like, it’s now Rick and morty territory.
Josh [laughing]: Okay.
Raya and the last dragon Also brings a less familiar take on dragons to Disney Canon. While in Western stories – from “Beowulf” to St. George to Tolkien – dragons are seen as opponents kidnapping young girls and amassing wealth to be killed; in Raya (as in the cultures that influence it) they are symbols of prosperity and fortune, and the reverence each character has for them is strikingly beautiful. Young Raya and Namaari describe themselves as “dragon nerds,” Namaari salutes their stone statues, and even the most battle-hardened characters are reluctant to harm a dragon: a radical departure from previous Disney portrayals such as Maleficent and Madame Mim.
Arley: I liked that the rain was used as a positive element in this film. Usually a downpour is used to signify darkness, depression, or negativity, but rain equals life! Even when it had a slightly negative connotation, when Sisu was upset about something, Raya jumps up and she has a big smile and she is like, “Why the downpour ?!” So they even counterbalanced this moment with brightness. Final thought: we need more movies like this. Long overdue.
Josh: This world is so cool, and the characters are all fleshed out enough, that I would love to see more stories unfold here. In the end, I’m generally very against love stories in a lot of Disney movies, but Raya and Namaari were like, “We’re enemies, we’re both strong female warriors,” so I had feel like it would fit. Maybe that’s where they end. I hope they will fall in love.
Directed by: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada, Paul Briggs & Jean Ripa
Written by: Who Nguyen, Adele Lim, Paul Briggs, Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada, Kiel Murray, Jean Ripa & Dean Wellins
With: Kelly marie tran, Awkwafina, Izaac Wang, Gemma chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict wong, Jona Xiao, Sandra Oh, Thalie Tran, Lucille Soong & Alain Tudyk
JOSH PEARCE, deputy editor, started working at Location in 2016. He studied Creative Writing at SFSU and sold short stories and poems to various speculative fiction magazines. Born and raised in the Bay Area, he currently lives in the East Bay with his wife and sons and spends far too much time on Twitter: @fictionaljosh. Ken Jennings once signed his chest.
ARLEY SORG, editor, grew up in England, Hawaii and Colorado. He lives in Oakland, California. A 2014 Odyssey writing workshop graduate, Arley is co-editor of Fantastic Magazine, deputy editor and editor at Speed of light & Nightmare magazines, interviewer at Clarkesworld Magazine, and examiner for Cascadia Subduction Zone Magazine. It can be found at arleysorg.com – where he started his “occasional interviews” series with authors and editors – and on Twitter (@arleysorg).
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