Raya and the last dragon: a pretty Disney but without creative fire [critique]

Despite its good visual and narrative intentions, the new animated Disney fails to measure up to its obvious Asian fantasy models.

This is the bazaar in the kingdom of Kumandra: demons roam the Earth, transforming humans and dragons into stone statues upon contact. While going in search of the fragments of the Orb of the dragon (an artifact capable of reuniting the kingdom), Princess Raya will meet Sisu, the last living dragon … One of the beautiful ideas of Raya and the last dragon is its universe: the countries are placed around a river in the shape of a dragon, and each represents a part of the body of the mythical animal, of which each people has different colors and specific features (whites, blues, yellow …).

This is all well and good, but doesn’t that ring a bell? Those who have thought of Avatar, the last airbender – the fabulous animated series, which over fifteen years ago mingled Asian myths into a hair-raising and heart-wrenching quest for fantasy – won nothing: it was too easy. Raya sharing with Avatar the same desire to explore Asian territory, and that’s good: but the latest Disney, grown from a DNA common to the Nickelodeon series, may well be overflowing with good will, it does not take off.

Vaiana was a hundred times more beautiful, adventurous and inspiring – and also benefited from the songs of the brilliant Lin-Manuel Miranda. No songs in Raya ; no villain in the strictly Disney sense of the term either. We won’t complain that the studio is looking for more complex stories based on the conflict between opposing forces rather than the perpetuation of essentialist clichés, but still this conflict would have to be dynamic, engaging … Well, OK, let’s forget a few periphrases: Raya’s scenario is not really exciting. Precisely because of its lack of adversity?

Raya and the last dragon
Disney

LACK OF CREATION

The problem is that we especially have the impression that the film is walking on eggshells, cautiously, while its exciting universe calls for adventure, danger, the unknown. From his intro (and all his worldbuilding, therefore) modeled on the credits ofAvatar, the last airbender to the introduction of the adult heroine who takes over Mad Max: Fury Road, Raya reminds us that if all creativity is nourished by what has been done before, it is still better to go beyond homage to create something new.

From the point of view of inspiration, the differences are finally noticeable compared to Avatar, but the series remains superior in all points (humor, epic breath, characterization and progression of characters …). This is not the first time that Disney has drawn its “inspiration” from a previous work without really recognizing it: The Lion King ” inspired by King Leo by Tezuka, Atlantis, the lost empire “Inspired” by the series Nadia, the secret of blue water. As can be seen, the question of pumping does not come into play in the final quality. What matters is the result on the film – or in your Disney + watchlist, in the case of Raya.

NOT UP TO THE HEIGHT

In a decade, the venerable Walt Disney Animation Studios had managed to raise the bar very high (Rapunzel, Snow Queen, The New Heroes, Zootopia, to the top Vaiana) … Despite all his goodwill, his strong prominent women (and a brilliant supporting role: Tong, a warrior with a big heart with a nagging physique), the real cinema stake of the film, Sisu, the sympathetic crazy dragon and shapeshifter, yet does not measure up to other legendary Disney tricksters, such as the genius ofAladdin or Maui from Vaiana – this last film is likely to remain one of the greatest successes of Disney of the last twenty years. We are still waiting for the one who dethrones him.

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