Have you seen Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon? Disney Animation Studios’ latest animated romp, which is now available to buy on digital, is about a young girl who goes on a quest to find a mysterious dragon in order to save the world from a mystical force known as the Druun. Well, I’ve seen it precisely 6,322 times. No, really. I’m keeping count.
I decided to shell out $30 to purchase the flick on Disney+ back in early March since the studio’s past films, Moana and Frozen, were favorites in my household. Ever since then, my two daughters have spent every waking moment savoring Raya’s luscious visuals, witty dialogue, and exciting fight sequences. When they’re not watching the film, they’re reenacting it.
The other day, after asking for some cereal, my youngest daughter held her bowl in a manner similar to the pose enacted by the characters after the Druun turns them to stone. Naturally, I had to pretend to piece together an orb in order to free the tiny girl from her frozen state, after which our Husky (who looks and behaves remarkably like the titular last dragon, Sisu) leaped into the kitchen as though summoned by my invisible magic. Vigorous cheers followed.
There’s even a running joke amongst our family over the correct pronunciation of the film’s title — you say Raya, I say Riya … and let’s call the whole thing off.
In other words, Disney’s latest has left quite a lasting impression on the Ames household. What makes it so magical? Perhaps the love stems from Raya — a young, aspiring warrior whose devotion to family leads her on a mythical quest chock-full of danger, excitement, and wondrous magic. Maybe it’s the story’s overarching themes of unity and trust, even in the face of death, that struck a chord; or, possibly, it’s the novelty of seeing truly unique new heroes like Raya and Sisu that sparked their imaginations. How will we ever know?
Let’s go right to the source.
“I like Sisu and the dragons and the crazy baby,” my five-year-old exclaims.
The 13-year old is more direct. “It’s very colorful, expressive, and has a lot of emotion,” she says.
Thank you Siskel and Ebert.
It’s been difficult to find a film that the whole family enjoys. I distinctly remember buying another movie and watched in horror as the five-year-old fell asleep midway through, followed closely by the 13-year-old. No one has touched the film since. The kids seemed to enjoy some other animated films targeted at children, but never returned to them. There have even been some great films that are one-and-done viewing for my daughters.
So, why does Raya, more than any film released since Frozen II, instantly capture and maintain my daughters’ attention span for two straight hours?
My theory is that it’s the central message of selflessness, hope, and the power of friendship that makes Raya such a home run with these kids. There are many family films released each year, but very few good family films adorned with Raya’s wholesome, adventurous spirit. It feels like a product from the mid-90s — a simple, pleasant experience brimming with good old-fashioned family values, and a story utterly devoid of cynicism. Raya offers hope — the kind of hope we need more of in this day and age of incessant violence, and widespread resentment.
The final scene of the film has Raya, now a grown woman, return home to embrace her father after years of separation. On my first viewing, as James Newton Howard’s music swelled, I turned away from the screen and was instantly moved by the wondrous sight of two young women experiencing pure, unadulterated Disney magic.
I’ve enjoyed that moment precisely 6,321 more times and will do so countless more now that it’s available for digital.
Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon is now available to buy on Apple TV, Google Play, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Fetch, Telstra TV Box Office, Microsoft Store, and Playstation Store.