“Raya and the Last Dragon” A new Disney princess from Southeast Asia battles factionalism and her own trust issues.
Not long after she follows her dad’s lead when he extends an olive branch to the fellow leaders of the other kingdoms that once comprised Kumandra, an ancient utopia of cross-cultural unity, she’s betrayed by a new friend, Namaari (Gemma Chan).
Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) had giddily offered to give her pal, a fellow warrior princess with whom she’d bonded over swords and curry, a peek at the dragon gem that’s causing all the grown-ups to act out.
Unfortunately for Raya, Namaari’s chumminess is part of a ruse to get that precious rock: in this factionalized, dog-eat-dog world, even the kids are con artists.
Turns out the stone is the only thing standing between humanity and the Druun, a “mindless plague” that turns people into terra-cotta statues. This shapeless, electric-purple evil is unleashed when the gem shatters, throwing the planet into the Dark Ages.
Six years later, Raya is a young woman and a solo adventurer zooming around a desert wasteland on her trusty pill-bug-armadillo. Her moment of past weakness haunts her — figuratively and literally, with a pugilistic Namaari always on her tail.
Faith in the goodness of other people — even those from distant lands and of different persuasions — is the governing theme of “Raya and the Last Dragon,” which the directors Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada, and the screenwriters Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim, set in a fantasyland version of Southeast Asia complete with floating markets, water taxis and lots of shrimp congee.
In typical Disney-princess fashion, our brooding heroine acquires a joke-slinging sidekick in nonhuman form: Sisu (Awkwafina), the titular last dragon. Raya and company traverse multiple lands to collect the scattered pieces of the stone.
And here, Raya and Namari must learn to trust each other despite the history of betrayal. Then there’s Sisu, whose unwavering faith in humanity will leave its mark on both ladies. The unity rhetoric feels awfully trite, but it also teaches forgiveness: a worthy lesson for the kids.
Directors; Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada, Paul Briggs, John Ripa
Writers; Qui Nguyen, Adele Lim
Stars; Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Izaac Wang, Daniel Dae Kim