Raya is amazing, hands down the best movie Disney has made yet. It’s got amazing characters, a well developed and rich world, beautiful animation and set pieces, and a lot of heart. Plus a dragon. Everyone loves dragons. With this film, I’m happy to see the awful naming trends of the late 2000s and 2010s are finally fully laid to rest. I was tired of Tangled, Brave, Frozen, and such. Now we have a title fitting of the journey we’re about to embark on. And what a journey that is. First, let’s get the synopsis out of the way.
The world of Kumandra was once full of dragons that brought water and life to the land. Until one day a force of evil known as the Druun invaded the land, created by the mistrust of humans. They turned any humans they touched to stone, standing still with hands stretched forward, cupped. The dragons were all but defeated by the Druun when the mighty Sisu fused her spirit with a gem that banished the evil from the land. And with that, the last dragon was lost as well all to save humanity.
Centuries later, the land of Kumandra was no more as the tribes of humans were split along the great river, each naming their city after a different part of the dragon. Raya and her father live in Heart and are guardians of the soul of Sisu. The other tribes grew jealous of Heart, saying that they were prosperous because of the gem. However, Raya’s father wishes to bring the land together as Kumandra once more and invites the other cities to partake in a feast. The others don’t feel the same and with misplaced trust, Raya watches as Talon breaks the gem into pieces, each piece being taken by one of the tribes.
With the shattering of the gem, the Druun have returned once more. Raya’s father sacrifices himself to save her and hands her Heart’s shard. Six years later, Raya follows the rumor that Sisu, the great dragon, is still out there at the end of the river. That’s where our journey begins, with Raya bringing Sisu back to the land and together they embark on a journey to gather the other shards and save humanity from their fate, meeting many friends along the way.
The lore of the film is SO GOOD. The world revolves around water as the water is what drives back the Druun. The Druun are seen rolling about the land from time to time and it’s honestly terrifying. One simple bit of lore that really elevated the movie to god tier for me was, as I mentioned, when people are touched by the Druun, they turn to stone with their hands cupped forward. Raya asks one character what happened to their family and with a wordless hands cupped forward motion, you have all the context you need. It’s at that moment I realized that this is a world connected by grief. It’s what brings the main characters together and what leads them along their paths to help Sisu and Raya on their journey.
Each tribe is based on a different culture. Talon is Egyptian for example. And the cultures are beautifully represented here. Considering this movie was made almost primarily from home during the pandemic, it’s amazing the amount of heart and small touches they were able to add throughout the world. Talon is known for being cat people, as they are based on Egyptians. They ride on caracals into battle which is extremely cool. One small touch I adored was that the leader called a group of children kittens which is such a small touch that just builds the world so much.
The movie is a spectacle I wished I could have seen on the big screen. I hope it gets a rerelease once the pandemic has calmed down. The dragon designs are delightfully fuzzy, the cities are full of too many vibrant details to take in, and the fight sequences are extremely well choreographed. All the action in this movie is so creative and well done, taking full advantage of the fantasy setting.
As my roommate put it while we were watching “I wish I could make a D&D campaign this good.” The world is so full and vibrant and I’m amazed at how much they were able to pack inside without any scenes feeling rushed or wasted. We travel to so many locations and I feel every one of them gets its proper screen time.
From start to finish, this film is a treat. I don’t know how Disney will top this honestly. While this movie won’t have any deep layers of meaning like Zootopia and it won’t lead to a million little girls dressing up like Elsa, this is the best animated fantasy movie I’ve seen and I can’t wait to take this adventure once again. If you were on the fence, rest assured, you will be in for an extremely imaginative journey you won’t soon forget.