Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

Raya and the Last Dragon is not a subtle movie. It hammers you with its themes from the very beginning, tying setting and conflict and nearly everything else into a robust and relentless thematic journey from initial action through to climax and conclusion.

And I really liked it.

Because while Raya’s thematic beats thump home like clockwork, it’s also heart-warming, dramatic, gorgeous, and engaging.

This movie did not surprise me. While it has nice little flourishes that feel right, it did not wow me with big twists or unexpected reveals. Nor did it leave me guessing about its message. But it did have me crying by the end. This story got me in my narrative soft spots even though I could see the setup coming from its first twenty minutes.

In many ways, Raya is an excellent introductory movie: it both teaches how to incorporate a central theme when making films, and offers a very clear example for audiences still learning to identify themes in movies.

A few quick highlights without spoiling anything: the fight choreography and performance is excellent (partially covered on this episode of Corridor Crew), as is the art and character design and the differentiation for the five different regions of the movie’s world. But the best part, from a narrative perspective, is that the movie feels true to its characters. The speaking characters may not be the deepest and most nuanced, but they feel relatable and human instead of paper thin. And I never really feel like they’re being made to carry an idiot ball; they aren’t roped in as plot tools without deeper consideration given to being honest to the character as we know them.

I like the voice acting and animation too! I’m not wishing for a sequel (the movie does a good job of delivering a conclusion, and doesn’t need more as far as I’m concerned), but I would happily watch and listen to these people (Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Tae Kim, Benedict Wong, Izaac Wang, and Sandra Oh) doing more work together… especially if the next movie they do is anywhere near as pretty as this one. Oh and points to Alan Tudyk for once again being a charming animal voice actor in a predominantly non-white movie, I continue to appreciate the role reversal.

So yes, I do recommend this movie. I liked it. It might not get you in the emotions the way it got me—I’m sure that experience will vary—but it’s good.

Update: Oh, and, because this video is accurate and made me snort, here’s the link to the Honest Trailer for Raya. Watch it if you don’t mind being spoiled (or if you’ve already seen Raya and want a laugh).

The Wizard’s Dilemma, by Diane Duane

JacketWelp, this one took me a long time to finish.  I’m still not quite sure how that happened.  Part of it was that I started the book while I had far too many things on my plate and thus got distracted.  But part of it was that at a certain point in The Wizard’s Dilemma, I felt like I could see where all of the pieces were, where they needed to go, and had a pretty good idea of how they were going to get there… and I really wanted them to just be there already, instead of making me wait.  I suspect that this is the price I pay for reading so much.  Or perhaps for being impatient.

It turns out that I was right about most of those various story beats, but seeing what Diane Duane did with them was far more satisfying than what I’d imagined.  I probably should have seen that coming, given that I’ve read the earlier books in the series and know how good Duane is at her work.  Once I finally got over my block and moved into the last parts of the book, I didn’t want to put it down.  And then, of course, the climax made me cry.  Whatever the real reasons for my reading delays, I feel quite certain in saying that this was an excellent book, one worth reading, worth recommending, and one that leaves me wanting to read the next one in the series.  Just like the previous books in the series.  I probably could have seen that coming too.

So, why the heck did this book make me cry?
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