Raya and the Last Dragon

In this post, I will review the three sets from Disney’s latest movie: Raya and the Last Dragon. These are 43181 Raya and the Heart Palace, 43184 Raya and Sisu Dragon, and 43185 Boun’s Boat. As a fan of both Disney movies and Dragons, I had high expectations for both the movie and the sets. As for my previous reviews, I don’t intend on being exhaustive. Instead, I will focus on what I found interesting from a photographic point of view. If you are looking for generic exhaustive reviews, you can most likely find plenty of them online.

(Note that the sets were provided by our friends at LEGO.)

While this post won’t spoil anything major about the movie, it might still contain light spoilers. (That said, the LEGO sets contain light spoilers themselves.) Still, if spoilers are an issue, I’d recommend not reading this post and go watch the movie first ;-)

Before talking about the sets, I want to focus a bit on the movie.

The Movie

Overall, like Frozen 2 last year, the movie is a visual delight. It really shows how far Disney Animation Studios has come since it started making computer-animated movies 15 years ago. Even when comparing it to a rather recent movie like Moana, Raya is still visually superior. Moreover, contrarily to other so-called “princess movies”, like Tangled, Frozen, or Moana, the movie doesn’t feature songs.

(Also, as someone who loves Asian cuisine, Raya could be the Disney movie that made me most hungry and craving for yummy South East Asian food…)

The story is about the land of Kumandra, split into five nations that distrust each other since the disappearance of the dragons. This distrust between people awakened the Druun, some dark forces turning people into rock statues. The movie tells the story of Raya, who finds Sisu, the Last Dragon hoping she will save the world like 500 years before. People from each nation eventually join the group in the quest of restoring peace and reuniting Kumandra.

The plot

Storywise, I have slightly mixed feelings.

On one hand, many have argued that the story is largely inspired by Avatar the Last Airbender. I also saw people defending these are just similarities and there are as many differences.

While I acknowledge certain differences, some even making Raya’s story sometimes superior, I can’t stop comparing both and seeing parallels. I also see a lot of similarities with The Dragon Prince, a Netflix series that I’m impatiently waiting for the fourth season and which also bears lots of resemblance to Avatar (due to being co-written by the original writer of Avatar itself).

So to me, the movie does indeed screams “Avatar The Last Airbender meets The Dragon Prince meets Moana”.

Yet, I wouldn’t go as far as to say this is plagiarism. Moreover, after being mindblown by Avatar years ago, I’ve been a sucker for that kind of story. I can’t really blame Disney for jumping on the bandwagon.

While it is far from being the best recent Disney movie, and both Avatar and the Dragon Prince are overall far superior in terms of plot, world-building, and character development, I appreciate that Disney is trying to be more nuanced.

I wish we could see more stories breaking free from the traditional Manichaean good vs. evil stories that plague pop culture. In many ways, these stories now inspire me far more than something like Star Wars or even the Lord of the Rings do. Indeed, I’d prefer to represent conflicts in a more nuanced way rather than in the good vs. evil plots inspired by Arthurian legends and religion and which are usually resolved mostly through violence.

Sisu the Last Dragon

Let’s start with the star of the movie: Sisu the Last Dragon.

When I first saw the official images of the sets, the Sisu figure didn’t really impress me. She didn’t look anything like the real thing. However, after getting the set, my opinion about Sisu improved. Indeed, it looks better in real life than on the box.

Yet, it’s still far from being a good build for photography. Sisu looks way too blocky and weird. While the head mold is nice, it somehow doesn’t have the sweet or goofy expression the character has in the movie.

All that said, I can’t really blame the designers. I think it’s a tough one to get correct in such a small set.

I found that the best way of photographing her was to detach her tail and head to make her swim.

Sisu also comes as a Minidoll in her human form with Boun’s Boat. While I really like her clothing and hairpiece, the facial expression doesn’t convince me much. Like for the dragon form, I find she lacks the silliness and humor of the character in the movie.

Raya

Raya is the main protagonist and by far the best-looking figure of all sets. I particularly like her version with the cape coming in the set with the Palace alongside Tuk Tuk.

The Ongis

The Ongis are thief monkey-like creatures who join Raya on her quest. (Alongside the baby Noi who’s somehow missing from the sets.) While I didn’t connect a lot with those characters in the movie, I found them very fun to photograph. In particular, I really like their different facial expressions.

Boun (and his boat)

Boun is one of the main characters. At first, I didn’t recognize him, due to the character being a child and the figure a regular Minidoll. Yet, I think the figure is a good rendition of the character and benefits from not being one of these “microdolls” that LEGO now uses to represent children in recent Friends sets.

I really like Boun’s restaurant boat, the Shrimporium, which is one of the highlights of the sets besides the figures.

Missing Tong

Tong is one of the missing main characters from the main cast. I think he’s easily the second funniest character of the movie, after Sisu. I also think he’s one of the sweetest characters and appreciated finding a soft and broken person behind what first appears like a big brute.

While I would really like to have his figure, I’m not sure how LEGO could make (a good) one. As a Minidoll (or standard Minifig), he would look too short/skinny. The only alternative (using existing molds) I could imagine would be one of those Hulk-like big figs, similar to Maui. However, I tend to dislike those. I find them too big and rather ugly. I think the only way of getting a good Tong figure (or Maui) would be for LEGO to create some kind of “big guy” Minidoll. Something similar to the big fig but much closer in size and look to a Minidoll.

Namaari

Namaari is the character that first most looks like the bad guy gal of the story. Yet, much like Zuko in Avatar the Last Airbender, she is not what she appears.

Namaari also comes with a purple fox. I first thought it was supposed to represent a Druun. I assumed the LEGO designers might not have had access to full materials as is often the case for Star Wars sets of unreleased movies. However, I then realized it’s supposed to be Namaari’s Serlot cat-like mount. It’s not really accurate and a brick-built cat that Namaari could ride would have been a great addition. Still, I think it’s still a fun animal to add to my collection.

The Palace

Finally, the biggest set includes the Palace from Raya’s childhood village, featured at the very beginning of the movie before the Druun appears. From the very beginning, this was the build I was the most looking for. I was positively surprised to find that one of the small builds of the smallest set can connect to the palace, making it “complete”.

The kind of location needed for a movie-accurate photo of the palace.

Yet, the palace is maybe my biggest disappointment. Not that it doesn’t look worse than on the official images from LEGO, but it was quite difficult to photograph. In the end, I’m not really satisfied with the photos I took in the forest earlier this summer.

Finding the proper outdoor environment for the palace was particularly challenging. This could probably sum up my experience with these three sets: the North isn’t the easiest place to photograph them. (At least if the goal is to make images inspired by the movie.) I’m looking forward to taking this set outside during the winter though…

All that said, while I don’t know whether I will keep on photographing the sets or even the characters, I will definitely reuse some of the very nice Minidoll parts for my Elves.

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Boris
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Boris(@me2)
3 months ago

Thanks for sharing the review and make me look at this Disney movie. I really enjoyed it (I know I already shared it with you, just want to make it as a little comment here as well and not just in our group chat).

Love the images.
And love the creative review.