In “Raya and the Last Dragon,” a group of characters, torn apart by centuries of hatred, come 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 quirky celebrity cameos, band together and learn valuable lessons of courage and friendship.
Two anime movies, both worthy, on fair streaming services, where we set our scene. Each features lovable characters on a quest whose will is tested along the way. But one is treated like a vegetable plate and the other is a gooey dessert. And in their own way, both are satisfying.
“Raya and the Last Dragon” is Disney through and through. It builds the story of an ancient land where humans and dragons coexisted 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 and playful water dragon, to save the land and help unite her people.
The theme of “Raya” is trust, which it articulates by having the characters mention the word “trust” as if it were in bold type on every page of the script. The animation is smooth, especially when Sisu is flying through the air and doing dragon things, and the action is reliable, if a little stiff and serious.
There’s nothing stiff or serious about “Sponge on the Run,” which is aimed at young kids and college smokers alike. It follows SpongeBob SquarePants and his buddy Patrick from Bikini Bottom to the Lost City of Atlantic City, where SpongeBob’s snail buddy Gary has been kidnapped and is being used for his skincare by King Poseidon (voiced by Matt Berry ).
Helping SpongeBob and Patrick on their journey to retrieve Gary is a wise tumbleweed that houses leader Keanu Reeves, a robot driver (voiced by Awkwafina, whose voice is doing the rounds these days) with no real respect for his passengers or where they want to go, and Snoop Dogg, who randomly appears to play in the middle of the film. Danny Trejo also appears 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 films, in their own way, deliver. But while Disney is going down the prestige route with “Raya” — the film is credited with four directors and eight writers, and its cultural representation is both significant and admirable — “SpongeBob” is pure silliness, and ends up being a lot more fun to boot. Each gets where it goes and teaches significant human lessons along the way. But only one has a scene featuring flesh-eating cowboy pirate zombies, and you can probably guess which one.
“Raya and the Last Dragon”
Rated PG: for some violence, action and thematic elements
Duration: 108 minutes
In theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access
“The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run”
Rated PG: for crude humor, some thematic elements, and mild language
Duration: 91 minutes