Raya and the Last Dragon


Viewed – 05 June 2021 Disney+

I’ve always enjoyed animation and few can argue that Disney (and Pixar) still lead the industry when it comes to animated movies. This latest offering tells the story of Raya, a young girl who grows up amidst fantastical tales of dragons who saved the world from an evil force that once turned people into stone. However their actions also lead to their mysterious disappearance, and when warring factions cause a sacred crystal to get damaged, the evil force returns to reclaim the land. Raya then takes it upon herself to seek out the fabled ‘last dragon’ in hope of banishing the evil for good.

You got a friend in me…

With a Far Eastern theme, similar to Mulan, this gorgeous looking, mystical fantasy adventure had it all. An engaging story, fun characters and some great action with a strong influence from Chinese cinema hits like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Raya (voiced by The Last Jedi’s Lisa Marie Tran), at first seems typical Disney Princess, yet develops into a fleshed-out and likeable lead, aided well by a bunch of quirky characters, including a mischievous baby, a lovable warrior from a rival clan … and especially Sifu as the Last Dragon, who proves this movies shining beacon.

It may not re-write the rule book when it comes to this kind of thing, and it’s themes of trusting / believing in one another are cliched … but done particularly well here, especially towards the end where I must admit it got me quite emotional. Another slam-dunk then for Disney, and possibly one of my favourites in a while from the house of mouse.

Verdict: Essential

Spirited Away


Viewed – 26 November 2014  Blu-ray

How long has this acclaimed, Academy Award winning entry in the Studio Ghibli cannon taken to reach Blu-ray?  It feels like an age since I first watched it, my very first introduction to the mind and talent of famed director Hayao Miyazaki – but sitting down to it’s immediate charm, I was transported back to a fantastical world, part Alice In Wonderland, part The Wizard of Oz, but woven together from a rich tapestry of Japanese mythology and sheer uninhibited imagination.

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Chihiro is a young girl moving to a new house with her parents.  Forced to go to a new school, the prospect fills her with uncertainty and dread as she sits disgruntled and winey in the back seat of the family car.  However on route to their destination, the small family come across a mysterious tunnel in the woods, and venturing inside soon stumble upon an abandoned village.  Yet this is no ordinary village and when Chihiro’s parents are transformed into greedy pigs after eating from a banquet, the frightened young girl begins a journey of self discovery and finding strength she never knew she had, by working in a bath house, meeting a magical boy who can turn into a dragon and bumping into all manor of spirits, monsters and witches.  This is a stunning achievement in ideas and wonder … Miyazaki really out did himself and the world we are treated to is rich in detail with spooky, weird and creepy inhabitants and locations … the boiler man and his many legs, the giant baby, the ‘no-face’ monster, the stink spirit, the witch and so much more.  On first seeing this the sheer wealth of creations and extremely bonkers ideas was overwhelming, but done with such style and skill – the experience stayed with me.  Now with more familiarity with the world of Studio Ghibli, I found it easier to get to grips with, not as strange as I recalled and just enjoyed it for what it was.  Traditional hand-drawn animation at it’s best, borrowing from some of the most memorable stories ever written but adding a vibe all it’s own, that makes it stand proud.   One of the most magical movies ever made.

This Blu-ray release from Studio Canal is really impressive.  The image quality looks sharp and is bursting with colour and vibrancy.  Shimmer and softness that has marred some other Ghibli releases is absent here thankfully, and I was also pleased to see a DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack that truly brings this classic to life.  That orchestral soundtrack is amazing and with a decent English dub with clear voice work as well as some great use of the surrounds (the boiler room sounds amazing) – this really can’t be faulted.  The disc itself isn’t exactly brimming with extras with an archive introduction from John Lasseter (who was still at Pixar when it was filmed apparently), yet an interview with Hayao Miyazaki and a making of are both good additions.  We also get the usual Studio Ghibli story-boards to watch as the movie plays, which can be worth a look for enthusiasts.

Verdict:

The Blu-ray:  4 /5

The Movie:  5 /5