There are two animated films on the market that both focus on racial diversity. “Raya and the Last Dragon” focuses on Asian culture while “Soul” focuses on the black community. Both are successful in depicting the cultures accurately and positively. The difference lies in how they tell the story.
On Rotten Tomatoes, both movies are roughly equal, but if you study both films, you’ll see that “Soul” is far more emotionally engaging while “Raya and the Last Dragon” is not. The difference has nothing to do with the cultures they depict but with how they tell the story using both time and detail.
In “Raya and the Last Dragon,” time jumps from Raya’s life as a little girl to a time when she’s more of a teenager. Any time you have time jumps in a story, watch out because that risks cutting the emotional bond from a character, even if we later see that same character in the future.
That’s because it’s easy to bond with a younger Raya, but once we jump to where she’s older, wet have to bond with her all over again because she’s literally a different person.
Time jumps in any story threaten to read an emotional bond audiences develop towards a character. The reason for this is that we don’t get to experience the growth of the character. Instead, we’re just thrust into a new world. Think of any of your favorite movies and examine if they have a time jump or not. Chances are most will not because time jumps break that emotional connection.
“Raya and the Last Dragon” also uses time jumps within the story to move Raya to different places. That also weakens the emotional bond because instead of living through the characters int he story, time jumps simply throw us somewhere else without the connecting emotional development that gets us from one place to another.
In comparison, “Soul” keeps everything in one timeline with no drastic jumps. This helps us stay emotionally connected to the hero at all times. When the hero needs to go to a new location, we get to experience his travels and learn more about the character at the same time.
One scene in “Soul” involves the hero splitting his pants and needing to go to his mother to have his pants repaired. Instead of just jumping from the time the pants split to showing up at his mother’s tailor shop, “Soul” lets us journey with the character tot he subway where he learns more about himself by seeing a musician playing in the subway. This tiny moment might seem pointless, but it further reinforces the hero’s emotional state so we can eventually understand his change at the end.
It’s these details that make “Soul” far superior to “Raya and the Last Dragon.” In “Soul,” the hero gets to enjoy eating pizza and catching a tree seed as it falls from a branch and lands in his hand. This emphasizes the importance of treasuring every moment in life.
In contrast, “Raya and the Last Dragon jumps from one major scene to the other. Such choppiness hurts the story’s continuity while also disconnecting us from the hero. While “Soul” lets us experience and see the world through the hero’s eyes, “Raya and the Last Dragon” simply throws us in a new scene without getting to see and experience what the hero learns. That’s because in “Raya and the Last Dragon,” the hero is less of an emotional character and more of a generic action figure using martial arts and action to substitute for emotional connection and change.
Stories are ultimately about emotion. “Raya and the Last Dragon” jumps from one major scene tot he other without letting us experience the hero’s gradual emotional change. “Soul” lets us experience the hero’s gradual emotional change little by little so we feel and stay emotionally connected to the hero. By the end of “Soul,” we feel like we have changed too. By the end of “Raya and the Last Dragon,” all we feel like is that we’ve watched a visually stunning animated film that’s lacking in much emotion.
In “Soul,” the two main characters change each other emotionally. In “Raya and the Last Dragon,” the hero barely changes emotionally while the other characters lack any change whatsoever. These other characters simply exist to act in outrageous ways that fails to let us get to know them as real characters.
Despite their similar Rotten Tomatoes scores, “Soul” is far superior to “Raya and the Last Dragon” because “Soul” gives us time to feel the emotional change in the hero while “Raya and the Last Dragon” do not.
Watch both animated films and see if the time jumps and the lack of emotional depth in “Raya and the Last Dragon” make it more visually interesting to watch but emotionally empty when it’s done. Then watch “Soul” and see if you can detect the numerous details that let us experience the hero’s emotional change from start to finish.