Reading too much political subtext into this movie — which hits theaters in addition to Disney+, like “Mulan,” at a premium fee — won’t be a problem for the kids watching it. Yet the adults who join them might find something deeper in the themes, in a film that’s otherwise colorful, action-packed, and more than a little convoluted in setting up its premise.
Raya’s father (Daniel Dae Kim) remained in possession of a gem that held the last vestiges of the dragons’ magic, and dreamed of reuniting the kingdom. But those plans go awry, leaving a dystopian landscape that forces Raya to travel to each of the various lands — wary as they are of each other — to reunite the gem and restore harmony to their fractious world.
It’s a lot to digest, including the dragon of the title, Sisu, voiced with Eddie Murphy-in-“Mulan”-like energy by Awkwafina. The dragon promotes the idea of trusting others, but Raya has a bit of history with the princess of the Fang lands, Namaari (“Crazy Rich Asians”http://rss.cnn.com/” Gemma Chan), who is every bit her equal in battle.
The aforementioned sidekicks are plentiful and in some instances quite fun, among them an extremely useful creature/mode of transportation known as Tuk Tuk (unintelligibly voiced by Alan Tudyk) and a thieving toddler. The dragon, alas, should be the centerpiece of the action, and the design is a little too cartoony and plush-toy friendly — less majestic and magical, at least most of the time, than simply kind of goofy.
In that sense, Raya’s challenge somewhat mirrors that of the film itself. The pieces are all there, but the true measure of success boils down to how well you put them together.
“Raya and the Last Dragon” premieres March 5 in theaters and for an extra fee that date on Disney+. It’s rated PG.