Earlier this week I watched and reviewed the brilliant Raya and the Last Dragon and noticed a few similarities to that of other Disney movies such as Moana and Mulan. Don’t get me wrong, I love Raya and the Last Dragon and it may even be my favourite movie out of the three, but I wanted to explore in a bit more depth the similarities and comparisons between the films. This post does contain minor spoilers for Raya and the Last Dragon so be warned!
Similarities with Mulan
The most obvious similarity between Mulan and Raya and the Last Dragon is undoubtedly the animated dragons of each film. In Raya and the Last Dragon, Sisu is ‘the last dragon’ and she puts it is “not like the best dragon”. Likewise, in Mulan, from the very beginning of the film we know that Mushu has a poor track record in protecting Mulan’s family and I think it’s safe to assume that Mushu is one of few (if not the only) dragon in Mulan’s depiction of ancient China.
Another similarity between Mushu and Sisu are their personalities. Both characters are cheeky, impulsive and overly enthusiastic, contrasting to that of their lead counterparts, Mulan and Raya. It’s this balance of fearlessness and courageous traits in Mulan and Raya, combined with the humorous and wacky traits of the sidekicks Mushu and Sisu, that strike a chord with audiences and are ultimately a hit. Essentially both Mushu and Sisu’s main aim is to provide comical relief to the audience, but both characters are important to helping progress the story.
Whilst there are obvious differences in the backstory and origins of the two dragons, it’s interesting to see how both films pair a strong female lead character with a somewhat inferior dragon. Dragons are often considered ferocious and fearsome, but in both Mulan and Raya and the Last Dragon, Mushu and Sisu are the opposite! Implementing this device of unexpected and opposing characteristics is a common feature for sidekick characters in many films, but the specifically comparable similarities of both Mushu and Sisu are plainly obvious.
The similarities with Mulan don’t stop there, take Raya’s other trusty sidekick Tuk Tuk, the huge yet adorable armadillo come pill bug, whom she rides round Kumandra on – remind anyone of Mulan’s horse Khan? Both these characters can be characterized as loyal and trustworthy and just to put the icing on the similarity cake, neither of these characters talk! Granted, other than dragons, animals do not speak in either Mulan or Raya and the Last Dragon, but still it’s evident to see how alike these characters with regards to personality and mannerisms.
Similarities with Moana
One of the biggest similarities between Moana and Raya and the Last Dragon is the importance of water in each film. Obviously in Moana, a lot of the film is understandably set out on the water, but I was surprised to learn in Raya and the Last Dragon that Sisu is in fact a water dragon! As I saw more of Sisu, I noticed huge similarities to that of Moana. Both characters seemingly have an ability to manipulate water and as Sisu discovered more of her abilities throughout the film, I was at times reminded of Moana and her initial connections with the ocean. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if Raya and the Last Dragon leant on some animation techniques from Moana, it is of course the same studio!
Another major similarity I noticed between the two films was between the main antagonists in each movie. Te Kā, Moana’s main villain, has a major weakness of water which similarly is one of the weaknesses of the evil Druun, in Raya and the Last Dragon. Not only do the villains share weaknesses, they also look pretty similar! Te Kā is a somewhat larger than the Druun but both share similar visual features; bright colours at their core but surrounded by a smog of darkness and smoke. Plus, the Druun turn people to stone and Te Kā is seemingly made up of a combination of volcanic rock and stone, see the connection?
I do get a sense that both Raya and the Last Dragon and Moana are somehow linked. We’ve seen it happen with previous Disney films, take Rapunzel appearing at Elsa’s coronation in Frozen for example, so I wouldn’t be at all shocked for some easter eggs to come out linking the two films in the coming weeks! I’d need to watch Raya and the Last Dragon a few more times to check for any glaringly obvious connections to Moana, but when watching I did think that one of the flags of the 5 tribes of Kumandra were reminiscent of the Motunui tribes’ flag in Moana.
Differences with Mulan and Moana
Despite some stark similarities with both Mulan and Moana, Raya and the Last Dragon is still a very unique film with some big differences to not only Mulan and Moana, but any other Disney ‘princess’ film for that matter. One of the most noticeable differences is the omission of any big musical singalongs – maybe one of the reasons why I enjoyed it so much! In all seriousness, the lack of in-film-songs does aim the film at a slightly older audience than that of other Disney princess films, particularly compared to that of Moana.
I suppose another noticeable difference between all three films is the title of each film. Mulan and Moana opt for just the main protagonists name as the title, whereas Raya obviously includes ‘and the Last Dragon’. Whilst this may only seem like a minor difference in the grand scheme of things, it’s interesting that both Mulan and Moana are based on traditional folklore stories (The Ballad of Mulan and Māui respectively), whereas Raya and the Last Dragon is an original story created by Disney. Realistically the difference in title is probably just by design, but it’s interesting that Disney opted for Raya and the Last Dragon as opposed to just ‘Raya’ which equally would have worked.
Ultimately all three films are fantastic in their own unique way and whilst it has been well documented that certain elements are often shared across Disney’s staggering collection of films, I don’t see it as a simple ‘copy and paste’. I see it as years of experience and intuition going into crafting timeless, family classics.
Raya and the Last Dragon is now available to stream on Disney+ Premier Access. Alternatively it will be free for all Disney+ subscribers on June 4. You can check out my review of it here.