Long ago, in the fantasy world of Kumandra, humans and dragons lived together in harmony until an evil force plagued that the dragons sacrificed themselves to stop. Now, 500 years later, the evil force has returned and it's up to one young woman, Raya (voice of Kelly Marie Tran), to defeat the evil force once and for all with the help of the last remaining water dragon, Sisu (voice of Awkafina).
On the surface, 'Raya and the Last Dragon' might seem a little like it's been there, done that. While the story has been done before, many times, and arguably done better, the unique setting and voice cast, meshed together with beautifully designed settings and characters, makes it something more.
'Raya and the Last Dragon' sees a band of misfits - led by Raya, the martial arts-wielding hero of the story - attempting to recover stones which, when joined together, will help defeat an evil force called Druun which turns people to stone. The story and the structure of the movie does feel very linear, and feels more like a cutscene from a videogame you can't play than an actual movie. Sure, the motivations for the characters are clearly defined, but it's just a little bit too safe and familiar for it to be compelling.
That said, the art and the design of the individual regions of Kumandra are sharply realised, and each of them has a unique blend of influences, from sci-fi futurism to Asian architecture. Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina both have a good chemistry together, and Awkafina's loose, ad-libby style fits well into the confines of the story. Kelly Marie Tran is able to convey all of the determination and grit of the heroic central character, while Gemma Chan, Benedict Wong, Sandra Oh, and Daniel Dae Kim all voice their roles with gusto.
While 'Raya and The Last Dragon' might be a little too familiar, there's a good intent behind it. The art styles and the diverse voice cast give representation to characters, voices, and places that have been absent from animated movies until now. Sure, they're using a tried-and-tested story formula, but adding in a fresh perspective with unique voices and influences keeps it from getting too stale.