Great Britain

Raya And The Last Dragon is formulaic but feels wonderfully fresh

RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON

(PG) 108mins

★★★★★

DISNEY most definitely thought, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” when making this latest animation. 

Reaching for the checklist of recent successes — Mulan, Moana, Frozen — it ticked off “headstrong, brave princess who wants to protect her land”, “fair and trusting father”, “cute animal sidekick that understands English” and “set in a land that has mystical powers”.

Yet while formulaic, Raya And The Last Dragon somehow also feels wonderfully fresh.

This is the story of Raya (Kelly Marie Tran), the daughter of Benja (Daniel Dae Kim) who rules Heart, one of the five regions of Kumandra (the others are Spine, Talon, Tail and Fang).

It used to be a place where humans and dragons lived together in harmony. 

But when sinister swirling purple clouds called Druun threaten the land, the brave dragons sacrifice themselves to save humanity.

Druun are described as “a plague, built by human discourse — they’ve always been here, waiting for a moment to attack”. That might well resonate with audiences during these pandemic times.

Raya, who calls herself a “dragon nerd”, makes it her life’s work to find the “last dragon” Sisu (Awkwafina) and save the land from Druun for ever.

Sisu is the perfect excitable comedy character, reminiscent of Robin Williams as the Genie in Aladdin, released from years in storage and full of naive beans about the world.

When she first comes back to life and Raya exclaims how she saved the world, Sisu admits: “I’m gonna be real with you. I’m not the best dragon . . . have you ever done a group project and there’s that one kid that didn’t pitch in as much but still ended up with the same grade?”

With Tuk Tuk, a cute bug/pug/armadillo, the pair travel to each of the other lands and pick up a motley crew of pals on an action-packed journey.

These include a hilarious trickster baby and an eye-patched warrior in mourning. Together the team believe trust can conquer all, but not before some incredible fight sequences.

There is no breaking into song or power ballads in this badass story of girl power — or any sniff of a love interest.

There is, however, plenty to get those tear ducts going, with the spectacularly animated story of good faith and friendship likely to melt many hearts.

Movie news

THE DISSIDENT

 (15) 119mins

★★★★☆

IT is a good job this film about the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is a documentary, not a dramatised account.

Any Hollywood version would have to be an X-rated horror movie.

What happened to the Washington Post columnist inside the Saudia Arabian consulate in Turkey in 2018 is like something out of Saw.

In fact, a bonesaw was used. And we don’t need to see that. Neither does the story need embellishing for dramatic effect.

There is political intrigue, betrayal, love, bravery and assassins. It is not so much a whodunnit as a who-wanted-it-done.

Director Bryan Fogel provides evidence that the Crown Prince of Saudia Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered Jamal’s brutal killing.

And though details of the case have been widely reported, the film manages to provide fresh information. One of Jamal’s friends and fellow dissidents reveals how dangerous it is to get on the wrong side of the Crown Prince.

Is the prince lying when he says he had nothing to do with Jamal’s death? I can’t answer that for certain. 

But I can tell you this: Propaganda from the oil-rich kingdom claiming The Dissident is not worth watching is definitely a lie.

COMING TO AMERICA 2

(PG), 104mins

★★★★☆

EVEN if you try to resist its sometimes puerile humour, the return of Eddie Murphy as King Akeem of Zamunda and Arsenio Hall as his confidante Semmi will have you giggling by the end.

In this sequel, three decades after the original, Akeem discovers he has a son, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), fathered on his youthful trip to the US. So he returns to New York to track down his only male offspring and heir.

Together with Lavelle’s mum Mary (Leslie Jones) and Uncle Reem (Tracy Morgan) they return to Zamunda so Lavelle can marry the daughter of the despot of Nextdoria, General Izzi (Wesley Snipes) – to the annoyance of Akeem’s kick-ass eldest daughter Princess Meeka (KiKi Layne).

Any follow-up to a classic is always a gamble and a jittery starting gag about Zamunda’s own golden-arched fast-food empire McDowell’s feels lame. So it is a relief when an on-form Murphy and the comeback script hit their stride.

From the moment Salt-N-Pepa belt out What A King (to the tune of What A Man), the belly chuckles start coming. Along the way there are some razor-sharp comedic observations about race and equality. 

Silly but bound to make you laugh out loud.

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