Reviews: 'Raya,' SpongeBob take different routes to similar destinations

'Raya and the Last Dragon' and 'The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run' both have lessons for their audiences but teach them through different methods

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

In "Raya and the Last Dragon," a group of characters, torn apart by centuries of hatred, band together and learn a valuable lesson about trust. 

And in "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run," a group of underwater sea creatures, aided by a handful of off-the-wall celeb cameos, band together and learn valuable lessons in courage and friendship.  

Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina voice characters in "Raya and the Last Dragon."

Two animated movies, both alike in dignity, on fair streaming services, where we lay our scene. Each feature lovable characters on a quest whose will is tested along the way. But one is treated like a plate of vegetables and one is a gooey dessert. And in their own ways, both are satisfying. 

"Raya and the Last Dragon" is Disney through-and-through. It builds a story of an ancient land where humans and dragons co-existed peacefully, until a plague threatened the land and the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. 

Now, 500 years later, warrior princess Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) teams up with Sisu (Awkwafina), a goofy, playful water dragon, to save the land and help unite its people. 

"Raya's" theme is trust, which it spells out by having characters mention the word "trust" like it's in bold type on every page of the script. The animation is fluid, especially when Sisu gets to fly through the air and do dragon things, and the action is dependable, even if the enterprise is a little stiff and self-serious. 

Keanu Reeves, Patrick and SpongeBob Squarepants in "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run."

There's nothing stiff or self-serious about "Sponge on the Run," which plays equally to young children and college stoners alike. It follows SpongeBob SquarePants and his pal Patrick from Bikini Bottom to the Lost City of Atlantic City, where SpongeBob's snail pal Gary has been kidnapped and is being used for his skin care benefits by King Poseidon (voiced by Matt Berry). 

Aiding SpongeBob and Patrick in their journey to retrieve Gary are a wise tumbleweed that houses the head of Keanu Reeves, a robot chauffeur (voiced by Awkwafina, whose voice is making the rounds these days) with no real regard for its passengers or where they want to go, and Snoop Dogg, who randomly pops up to perform mid-movie. Danny Trejo also shows up briefly and shoots lasers out of his eyes, and there's an underwater facsimile of Kenny G named Kelpy G, who performs "My Heart Will Go On" on tenor sax. It's that kind of movie. 

Both movies, in their own way, deliver. But while Disney goes the prestige route with "Raya" — the film is credited to four directors and eight writers, and its cultural representation is both important and admirable — "SpongeBob" is pure silliness, and winds up being a lot more fun to boot. Each get to where they're going and teach meaningful human lessons along the way. But only one has a scene featuring flesh eating cowboy pirate zombies, and you can probably guess which.


'Raya and the Last Dragon'


Rated PG: for some violence, action and thematic elements

Running time: 108 minutes

In theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access

'The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run'


Rated PG: for rude humor, some thematic elements, and mild language

Running time: 91 minutes

On Paramount+