The Rise Of A Heroine

Disney’s Latest Film Brings Emotion And Fantasy Into An Incredible Masterpiece


Credit: Walt Disney Studios

Patrick Deliz, A&E Editor

Disney is still releasing its latest films through Disney+, but is also not hesitant to release to theaters as ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ makes its debut on both a digital and physical platform. 


The prosperous land of Kumandra is ravaged by the Druun, evil spirits that multiply after turning the land’s people and dragons to stone. Sisu, the last dragon, concentrates her magic into a gem and banishes the Druun, reviving Kumandra’s people but not the dragons. A power struggle for the orb divides Kumandra’s people into tribes, based on their placement along a giant, dragon-shaped river: Fang, Heart, Spine, Talon, and Tail. 

500 years later, Chief Benja of the Heart tribe (voiced by Daniel Dae Kim) has been training his daughter Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) to guard the gem. Firmly believing that the tribes can be united once again, Chief Benja decides to hold a feast for all five tribes. During the feast, Raya befriends the daughter of Chief Virana (voiced by Sandra Oh) of the Fang tribe, Namaari (voiced by Gemma Chan), who gives Raya a dragon pendant as a gift. Trusting her, Raya shows Namaari the location of the gem but Namaari, betraying Raya, reveals that she is only there to steal it, resulting in a fight between the two. Alerted to the attack, Benja and the other tribes arrive at the scene and start fighting one another over the gem, which gets destroyed in the scuffle. As each tribe steals a piece of the orb, the reawakened Druun ravage the Land of Heart and its people with a wounded Chief Benja among the casualties. 

For the next six years, Raya treks across the land to find Sisu in order to help her recover the missing orb pieces. After reaching a shipwreck, Raya finally manages to summon Sisu, who admits that she did not create the orb, but only used it on behalf of her siblings and can gain her siblings’ powers when she touches its pieces. They recover the second piece from a ruined, booby-trapped Tail temple, granting Sisu shapeshifting powers; and encounter a hostile Namaari and her tribesmen after Raya’s stolen map. Escaping the temple, they escape on the boat of young restaurateur Boun, who lost his family to the Druun. Despite Boun’s friendliness, Raya does not fully trust him. During the boat ride, Sisu explains the origins of the Druun and their weakness for water. 

The group arrives at Talon to claim the third gem piece, during which Raya encounters baby con-artist Noi and her trio of monkey-like companions, the Ongis, who adopted her after the Druun killed her family. After a chase, Raya recruits Noi and the Ongis while Sisu encounters Talon’s chieftess, who sinisterly offers her to the Druun for the other orb pieces. Raya rescues Sisu (voiced by Awkwafina) and reclaims the third piece, which allows Sisu to spew out fog which aids in their escape. The group then arrives at Spine, where they meet Tong, a fearsome warrior, and the village’s sole survivor. Namaari arrives and Raya holds her off in a fight while the others escape. Before Namaari is able to defeat her, Sisu saves Raya before leaving with the group for Fang, with Tong handing over Spine’s gem piece, giving Sisu power over rain. 

As the group get closer to Fang, Sisu suggests allying with Namaari rather than stealing the final piece. When Raya refuses, Sisu takes her back to the remains of the Heart and tells of how her siblings’ trust in her what had really empowered her to save Kumandra. Raya relents and decides to give Namaari the dragon pendant as a peace offering. Raya and Sisu meet privately with Namaari, but Namaari, torn by her responsibility to Fang and her wish to help, threatens to shoot them with a crossbow upon seeing the orb pieces. Sisu tries to calm Namaari down but is fatally shot when Raya lashes out at Namaari. Sisu falls into the river below which begins to evaporate at the death of the last dragon. 

With the water gone, Fang is overrun by the Druun. Raya enters to confront Namaari, whom she finds to be mourning over the petrification of her mother. The two fight while Raya’s companions rescue the people of Fang using the gem pieces. Raya, besting Namaari, prepares to kill her, but stops upon realizing her fault in Sisu’s death due to her inability to trust others and heads off with Namaari to aid the group instead. As the Druun advance toward Raya’s group, Raya remembers Sisu’s tale of how trust allowed her to save the world. Raya urges the others to come together and reassemble the gem, but her friends refuse to forgive Namaari after Sisu’s death. To show her faith, Raya hands Namaari her piece and allows the Druun to take her. The rest follow suit, with Namaari assembling the gem before the Druun petrify her as well. 

With the gem reassembled, the Druun are vanquished and everyone, including the dragons, are revived. As Raya and her companions rejoice, the dragons arrive and revive Sisu. Everyone reunites with their lost loved ones, including Raya and her father. The dragons and the tribes gather at Heart to celebrate and finally reunite as Kumandra. 


Raya and the Last Dragon was originally scheduled to be released in the United States on November 25, 2020.  However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the film’s release was delayed to March 12, 2021.  On December 10, 2020, as part of Disney’s Investor Day presentation, it was announced that the film’s theatrical release date was pushed up by a week to March 5, 2021, along with the film being simultaneously released on Disney+ with Premier Access the same day.  Raya and the Last Dragon will be available for purchase through Premier Access until May 4, 2021 and will be made available for free to all subscribers on June 4. 

Response from Critics 

Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 94% of 269 critics have given the film a positive review with an average rating of 7.70/10. The website’s critics consensus reads, “Another gorgeously animated, skillfully voiced entry in the Disney canon, Raya and the Last Dragon continues the studio’s increased representation while reaffirming that its classic formula is just as reliable as ever.”   

On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 75 out of 100 based on 46 critics, indicating “generally favorable reviews”.  Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of “A” on an A+ to F scale, while PostTrak reported 92% of audience members gave it a positive score, with 78% saying they would recommend it. 

Writing for IndieWire, Kate Erbland gave the film a grade of B+ and said, “As the Disney princess brand has continued to evolve, from the introduction of newbies like Moana to the continuing popularity of classics like Tiana and Mulan, Raya and the Last Dragon is a sterling example of how the trope still has room to grow — while proving that some of the original ingredients can still deliver the goods.” 

The film was criticized for the lack of Southeast Asian representation in the cast, as the film’s setting is set in a fictional land that represents Southeast Asia.[50] Most of the cast are of East Asian heritage, with the exception of K. Tran, Butler, T. Tran, Wang and Harrison. A. Felicia Wade of DiscussingFilm pointed this out in her review, commenting on the disheartening lack of accurate representation in the vocal cast and the fact that it “misses the mark at its core.” 

Box Office 

As of April 4, 2021, Raya and the Last Dragon has grossed $32.2 million in the United States and Canada, and $62 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $94.2 million. 

In the United States and Canada, the film was released alongside Chaos Walking and Boogie, and was initially projected to gross around $6.5 million from 2,045 theaters in its opening weekend. However, after making $2.5 million on its first day, thanks in-part to the re-opening of New York City theaters, weekend estimates were raised to $8.3 million. It went on to debut to $8.5 million, topping the box office.  

Three theater chains, Cinemark and Harkins in the United States alongside Cineplex in Canada, did not run the film after declining Disney’s rental terms, which led to Raya and the Last Dragon failing to match the opening weekend grosses of The Croods: A New Age and Tom & Jerry, two other animated films released amid the pandemic. Parents and kids made up a combined 52% of the opening weekend audience (with 57% being female), with 37% being White, 22% Black, 21% Asian, and 20% Hispanic. The film made $5.5 million in its second weekend and $5.2 million in its third, remaining atop the box office.