What’s Popping (or Not) – Raya and the Last Dragon

Finn Schuh, Staff Reporter

Welcome to What’s Popping (or not), the column where I have hard opinions on your favorite movies, games, TV shows, and books, and decide whether it’s popping or not after an in-depth review. 

Sisu looks like something straight out of a Barbie movie.

Alright, Disney, enough games. This is the second time you’ve thrown a teaser at me and gotten me really excited, but as soon as the trailer comes out, my standards are immediately lowered. When the teaser for Raya and the Last Dragon was released, I was so excited for the movie to come out. The protagonist looked cool, the animation was beautiful, and oh, my god, the music was amazing, it got me so pumped. Then I saw the dragon’s design … look, I’m not one to hate on Barbie movies … actually yes I am, and this dragon, Sisu, looks like something straight out of a Barbie movie. I think it’s mainly the eyes … they’re just so big and the heavy lashes are just … no. 

Upon watching Raya and the Last Dragon, I discovered that the movie was incredibly… average.”

Just average. Not horrible, but not great either. Aside from the dragon’s god-awful design, I did have a couple of other issues with just about every character in the movie, the weirdly paced storytelling, and the overall theme. First, though, let’s start with the things I enjoyed. 

This should be a given, but there are spoilers ahead.

Once again, Disney is hitting the nail on the head with the absolutely beautiful animation and aesthetic of the movie. There are so many beautiful aspects of this movie, even really tiny details, that just makes it so appealing to watch. Little things like the way the water floats around Sisu or the Spirit of Sisu, the way the rain glows when Sisu touches it, or even the mechanics of Raya’s sword are just so mesmerizing. Aside from all of that, though, the parts of the movie I enjoyed the most were the cutscenes about Kumandra’s past and people. The animation style they chose for these was different but fit so well with the rest of the movie. I really enjoyed the oversimplified, geometric designs and even more so Raya’s insight on the rest of the world. 

Also can we please just acknowledge James Newton Howard for a second because the score for this movie was amazing. 

Now onto the things I hate, starting with the characters. I’ve already kind of gone over why I hate Sisu, but aside from her horrible character design that doesn’t fit with the aesthetic of the movie whatsoever, she’s also one of the most annoying characters to ever exist right next to the stupid gargoyal, Hugo, from The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Terk from Tarzan. Of course, she’d be a little bit ignorant since she’s been asleep for so long, but she just keeps messing up over and over again. For every town they go to visit, Sisu suggests bringing a gift to gain the trust of the leader. Raya specifically tells her no because she knows it won’t work, but Sisu does it anyway. Even after it fails the first time, she continues to make the same mistake over and over again, she just doesn’t learn. 

I guess it could just be me, but the way Sisu talks is annoying as well. Obviously, I don’t expect her to talk in Old English or something, but she and one of the other characters have this whole conversation about credit. Credit as in credit cards. They do switch up the meaning of credit a bit, but conversations like that just kind of ruin the mood of the movie for me. I get that Disney is trying to be relatable or whatever, but this movie does not take place in modern times. 

Then there’s Raya, the movie’s protagonist. Yeah, she’s awesome and can fight and formulate plans. At the beginning of the movie, she’s a goofy kid yet still understands the severity of her job of protecting the Soul of Sisu. Then there’s a giant time skip and Raya gets serious trust issues that impact her every single decision in life. There’s no subtlety with this, it’s just always out there. Sisu, and all the other characters, are constantly calling her out on this, but she doesn’t change until the last ten minutes of the movie. At the brink of death, she finally learns to trust people just because it’s what’s most convenient. She places all of her trust into the movie’s antagonist to fix the Sisu soul gem, and– oh, my God, this movie is so predictable, wow. 

Where was I? Right, Raya remains static throughout the whole movie and her character development is rushed and crammed into the end of the movie. 

Raya is the movie’s protagonist. Yeah, she’s awesome and can fight and formulate plans. At the beginning of the movie, she’s a goofy kid yet still understands the severity of her job of protecting the Soul of Sisu.

Then there’s the movie’s antagonist, Namaari. Actually, I really don’t have any issues with Namaari. She’s cool. She’s pretty. She knows what she wants and has to do to make the world a better place, but she’s scared to take that final leap because of her mother. The banter between she and Raya is really enjoyable, and I like seeing that they’re allowed to grow close again. I just wish that THEY WERE LESBIANS OH MY GOD DISNEY PLEASE JUST GIVE US TWO QUEER MAIN CHARACTERS I AM BEGGING AT THIS POINT. 

The rest of the characters are pretty two-dimensional and all pretty much have the same backstory. Tong was cool and I wish he was expanded upon more, but he wasn’t. Boun was cool and I wish he was expanded upon more, but he wasn’t. The baby… I’m sorry what was with the baby? Like I get it’s supposed to be… what, comedic relief? If anything the baby was a crutch. The monkeys were cool. I liked the monkeys. More monkey, less baby, please. I understand that there needed to be this many characters for the end to make sense, but there were just too many to make them all good characters.

My next issue with the movie has to do with the pacing. The whole plot is basically going to each town to steal a piece of Sisu’s soul gem so it could be put back together. Aside from the one Raya already had from her home, there were four other pieces out there. Again, I think there was too much story jammed into an hour and a half. Each new location could’ve been a really cool place to explore or know more about, but the movie just moved too fast and ended up rushing through the finale. 

Finally, and I kind of mentioned this earlier, I had a bit of an issue with the overall theme of the movie which was trust. I mean, I don’t have an issue with the actual theme, but more so the way it’s presented throughout the whole movie. There is literally no subtlety, and it’s brought up constantly. There’s always that conflict between Raya and Sisu because one is too trusting and the other is not trusting at all. Instead of showing that, they’re constantly talking about it in the movie, and Sisu repeats the same mistakes because she’s a nuisance and I hate her. 

No joke, I think Sisu is my new least favorite Disney character ever, and I cannot emphasize that enough. 

I think what ruined this movie for me was that I went into it with expectations. Disney didn’t really advertise for this movie at all — and on top of that it was released the same day as the WandaVision finale — so I almost wish that YouTube hadn’t recommended me the teaser. Going into it with zero expectations probably would’ve made this movie a lot more enjoyable. 

Next month … look for my rundown and ranking of every Disney princess.

Overall, I give it a 5/10. It wasn’t awful, but don’t spend $30 on it for premium access, please it’s not worth it. Honestly, just go watch Moana because that movie is essentially everything Raya and the Last Dragon couldn’t be. 

Anyway, thanks for tuning in, and make sure to come back in an unspecified amount of time because I’m literally the worst with due dates to see what’s popping or not.