Raya and the Last Dragon, on the Disney+ Hotstar streamer, is a hugely enjoyable animated movie that delivers its sober themes through a vivid colour palette and well-placed humour.
An excellent voice cast brings to life a range of characters whose destinies are guided by events five centuries ago. Dragons and humans shared the world in this golden age, until a toxic plague called the Druun swept over the land, turning everything to stone.
Years later, a magically endowed orb helps keeps the Druun at bay. The gem is being safeguarded by Benja (Daniel Dae Kim) and his brave daughter Raya (Kelly Marie Tran). Keen on uniting the other warring lands, Benja invites their leaders over. But an act of betrayal causes the gem to be broken into five different pieces.
Raya’s beloved father too turns to stone. She scours the land with her steed Tuk Tuk looking for Sisu, the last surviving dragon who can undo the spell.
Sisu (Awkwafina) turns out to be an electric blue goofball whose chief talents are wisecracking and swimming (“I slaughter when I hit the water,” she promises). The odd pair, accompanied by the part armadillo and part pill bug Tuk Tuk, collect friends along their journey – the orphaned 10-year-old floating boat owner Boun (Izaac Wang), the gigantic but soft-hearted Tong (Benedict Wong) and “Con-Baby” (Thaila Tran), possibly the first infant confidence trickster in cinema.
Directors Don Hall (Big Hero 6, Moana) and Carlos Lopez Estrada and screenwriters Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim ensure that every character gets equal play. Perhaps none as is as charming as the tot who communicates through gibberish and becomes the darling of the group.
The eye-popping production design has been inspired by the geography and culture of Southeast Asia. The kinetic and colourful animation is vintage Disney. The themes of the importance of trust, teamwork and sacrifice never weigh down the adventure, which soars when it should and pauses at just the right places.