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‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ mixes a serious message with its animated action

‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ mixes a serious message with its animated action

The latest Disney animated adventure can be seen two ways: “Raya and the Last Dragon” offers another bold female lead from an underrepresented group and cute (in one case magical) sidekicks, embarking on a stirring quest. The deeper message, however, involves the toll that division and distrust inflicts on a mythical kingdom, which gives the otherwise pretty-good movie a rather timely hook.

Reading too much political subtext into this movie — which hits theaters in addition to Disney+, like “Mulan,” at a premium fee — won’t be a problem for the kids watching it. Yet the adults who join them might find something deeper in the themes, in a film that’s otherwise colorful, action-packed, and more than a little convoluted in setting up its premise.

Representing Disney animation’s first Southeast Asian heroine, the Raya of the title (pronounced “Rye-uh”) is as much a warrior as a princess, happily, voiced by Kelly Marie Tran of the recent “Star Wars” movies. She lays out the story in an opening narration, in which dragons fought off a threat 500 years earlier to the mythical kingdom of Kumandra, which subsequently split into five distinct lands.

Raya’s father (Daniel Dae Kim) remained in possession of a gem that held the last vestiges of the dragons’ magic, and dreamed of reuniting the kingdom. But those plans go awry, leaving a dystopian landscape that forces Raya to travel to each of the various lands — wary as they are of each other — to reunite the gem and restore harmony to their fractious world.

It’s a lot to digest, including the dragon of the title, Sisu, voiced with Eddie Murphy-in-“Mulan”-like energy by Awkwafina. The dragon promotes the idea of trusting others, but Raya has a bit of history with the princess of the Fang lands, Namaari (“Crazy Rich Asians'” Gemma Chan), who is every bit her equal in battle.

The aforementioned sidekicks are plentiful and in some instances quite fun, among them an extremely useful creature/mode of transportation known as Tuk Tuk (unintelligibly voiced by Alan Tudyk) and a thieving toddler. The dragon, alas, should be the centerpiece of the action, and the design is a little too cartoony and plush-toy friendly — less majestic and magical, at least most of the time, than simply kind of goofy.

As always, there’s some gorgeous imagery along the way, and a strong payoff after what amounts to the episodic nature of Raya’s journey. But the film feels too conspicuously like a work by committee than one of inspiration (the film credits four directors or co-directors, and 10 names as having contributed to the story), missing the spark that has characterized the studio’s best animated fare, including Pixar’s recent “Soul.”

In that sense, Raya’s challenge somewhat mirrors that of the film itself. The pieces are all there, but the true measure of success boils down to how well you put them together.

“Raya and the Last Dragon” premieres March 5 in theaters and for an extra fee that date on Disney+. It’s rated PG.

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‘The Talk’ returns with Sheryl Underwood remarks and an episode on race

“The Talk” returned Monday by jumping right into a conversation about race.

It was the first new episode since cohost Sharon Osbourne left the CBS daytime talk show in the wake of a heated discussion she had with fellow cohost Sheryl Underwood over Osbourne’s support of her friend, Piers Morgan.

Underwood questioned that support after Morgan’s negative comments following Prince Harry and Meghan’s interview with media mogul Oprah Winfrey were criticized as being rooted in racism.

Underwood opened Monday’s episode by explaining that it was the panel’s first time in studio since the incident with Osbourne and her exit from the show.

“We need to process the events of that day and what’s happened since so we can get to the healing,” Underwood said. “Over the next hour we will honestly discuss what occurred and explore some of our feelings. And we’ll also show you how anyone can become more comfortable with discussing important issues and having difficult conversations.”

The show ended up going on a brief hiatus after the debate and allegations surfaced via an article by journalist Yashar Ali that Osbourne used racist and homophobic language while speaking about her former colleagues on the CBS talk show.

Ali cited former “Talk” co-host Leah Remini, who spoke on the record in the piece, as well as a number of unnamed sources.

CNN has not independently verified the claims. A spokesperson for Remini confirmed the accuracy of her statements as reported by Ali and declined further comment when contacted by CNN.

Osbourne tweeted an apology for the blowup with Underwood and denied that allegations raised in Ali’s reporting in a statement from her spokesperson, Howard Bragman.

“The only thing worse than a disgruntled former employee is a disgruntled former talk show host,” he said in a statement to CNN. “For 11 years Sharon has been kind, collegial and friendly with her hosts as evidenced by throwing them parties, inviting them to her home in the UK and other gestures of kindness too many to name. Sharon is disappointed but unfazed and hardly surprised by the lies, the recasting of history and the bitterness coming out at this moment.”

Osbourne was the only remaining original cast member of “The Talk,” which debuted in 2010.

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