Breathtaking animation and a superb story about trust drive Disney’s latest effort, RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON. Featuring a predominantly Asian-American cast, it also boasts a gorgeous score composed by James Newton Howard. I realize kids might not appreciate the music, but “trust” me, the adults in the room will definitely notice.


Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) has been training to become a Guardian of the Dragon Gem. Her father (voiced by Daniel Dae Kim), Chief Benja, rules Kumandra’s Heart Land and very much wishes that all five of the regions named after parts of a dragon, Fang Land, Tail Land, Talon Land and Spine Land, could come together with Heart Land, and live in peace again.


Five hundred years prior, all the humans of Kumandra co-existed with dragons in harmony. But the Druun, a pack of evil, purple shapeless monsters, threatened Kumandra causing the dragons to sacrifice themselves to save humanity. The Dragon Gem has been guarded in Heart Land all these many years, with the people of the other four regions clamoring to possess it and its powers.


When Raya is deceived by Namaari (voiced by Gemma Chan), the princess of Fang Land, the gem gets broken into five pieces. The Druun reappear and turn her father and many others into stone. Raya must find the last dragon to restore the gem, which only the dragon can do, and save her father. Aided by her best friend --- and mode of transportation --- Tuk Tuk (voiced by Alan Tudyk), part armadillo and pill bug, Raya vows to exact her revenge on Namaari and fulfill her father’s wishes.



Eight years later, Raya, now grown, finally manages to find the last dragon, Sisu (voiced by Awkwafina), and together they make a plan to visit each of the other regions to recover the broken parts of the Dragon Gem and destroy the Druun. Along the way, Raya encounters Boun (voiced by Izaac Wang), the 10-year-old proprietor of a boat restaurant named Shrimporium, a baby con artist named Little Noi (voiced by Thalia Tran) and her three minions, plus Tong (voiced by Benedict Wong), a giant warrior, all of whom join Raya and Sisu’s cause.


RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON is thoroughly enjoyable for audiences of all ages. Children especially will delight in the phenomenal animation and the hilarity of Little Noi and her pals. Their mischievous ways will be appreciated by all. And no one can resist Tuk Tuk as he whisks her along through their perils. He also possesses the sweetest face when he’s not rolled into a giant ball.


But hands down the most amusing character of RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON is Sisu, the water dragon. She’s been drawn to resemble Awkwafina, especially when Sisu transforms into a human, one of her clever traits. Sisu’s need to trust --- and always bring a gift --- gets her into some crazy hijinks. Her friendship with Raya is the driving force behind this beautiful movie with its specific lesson.


When Raya once again is tricked by Namaari and her mother, Virana (voiced by Sandra Oh), the Chieftess of Fang Land, she is enraged and only wants revenge. But soon the lesson Sisu and her father had been trying to teach her --- the importance of

trust --- comes into focus. Raya must learn to have faith in the people around her so she can save Kumandra.


We’ve just been through a very tumultuous time in this country following our election and the not-so-easy transfer of power, so Disney’s message of unity, inclusion, harmony, and most importantly trust, hits its mark. And though these communications are extremely worthy, let us not forget that RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON is fun --- and funny --- greatly entertaining for the entire family.


Disney+ with Premier Access in most Disney+ markets, at the same time as it is released in select theaters on March 5, 2021.


Opinion: Strong See It Now!




Whether it’s live action or animation, Disney studios have a remarkable ability to portray young women as majestic yet humble heroines. Last year we raved about the live action version of MULAN. Now Jeanne and I are practically awestruck at Walt Disney Animation Studios’ production of RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON.


This is a movie that the whole family can enjoy. From its amazing animation and visual effects, its universal themes of friendship, family values and trust, and its sweeping cinematography, RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON is a marvel to behold. A major bonus is the score composed by eight-time Oscar nominee James Newton Howard which provides a stirring background for the prolonged end-of-movie credits. Howard may be in line for yet another Academy nod as this film is certain to be nominated in 2022.


A team of 10 writers (including Adele Lim, co-writer of CRAZY RICH ASIANS) and four directors --- led by Oscar winner Don Hall (BIG HERO 6, 2014) --- have collaborated to bring us the story of five separate warring realms --- named for various parts of dragons --- in a fantasy land called Kumandra. Once inhabited by scores of friendly dragons, a lone intrepid female warrior from Heart Land named Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran of STAR WARS fame) must find the last remaining dragon named Sisu (voiced by Awkwafina) to help restore peace in the land and life to those who have been turned to stone. This includes her loving and wise father Benja (voiced by Daniel Dae Kim) who also serves as the Chief of Heart Land.


On her journey, Raya is accompanied by her lifelong buddy Tuk Tuk (voiced by Alan Tudyk), a creature that looks like a rolling armadillo who also serves as her primary means of transportation. Other supporting characters include Namaari (voiced by Gemma Chan) from an opposing realm who betrays Raya’s initial offering of friendship and becomes her chief nemesis, Namaari’s mother Virana (voiced by Sandra Oh), and the most adorably animated toddler in recent memory named Little Noi (voiced by Thalia Tran). Special mention must go to Boun (voiced by 13-year-old Minnesota native Izaac Wang) who is a street-smart, enterprising young man.


The most endearing part of RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON, without question, is the relationship between Raya and Sisu. Tran and Awkwafina are ultra-exuberant in their voice roles as the two characters are akin to two best female friends exhibiting the closest of bonds. The team of writers have imbued Raya and Sisu with humor, humility and heroism. Both voice actors are exceptional in their roles.


Another of the attractions of RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON is the fact the filmmakers offer surprises which heighten our awareness and maintain our attention. For example, treachery may rear its ugly head with virtually no warning as a kindly old grandmother is not what she appears to be. Conversely, a savage looking brute named Tong (voiced by Benedict Wong) is the gentlest of giants.


I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to put this film in the context of America’s relationship with world powers who oppose our democratic views. Think of the mistrust that is inherent among nations like Russia, China, North Korea and Iran contrasted with the United States and what we have is the groundwork for the land of Kumandra. The writers of RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON may be suggesting that if their five warring factions can find peace and harmony --- why can’t the countries of the real world?


Disney+ with Premier Access in most Disney+ markets, at the same time as it is released in select theaters on March 5, 2021.


Opinion: Strong See It Now!