El Capitan Theatre Reopens in Hollywood

by Todd Pickering, contributing writer

On March 19, 2021 at approximately 8:40 a.m. this MousePlanet entertainment writer/cinema enthusiast was the first patron to walk through the El Capitan': doors after it had been closed for exactly one year and two days. I found this fact out from a joyful cast member in suit jacket and tie who heartily welcomed me to the cinema. As I purchased my ticket I was bombarded by reporters to come and talk with them. The same cast member informed me in no uncertain terms that; "You do not have to talk with them, sir." I let the reporters know that it was too early to confer with them and would be happy to chat after the film had ended.

You enter this majestic theatre on the left-hand side now where a big plexiglass screen is set up so they can safely scan your ticket. Your temperature is checked and as always you go through the same sort of security as at Disneyland Parks where pockets are emptied and you go through a metal detector. The snack bar is also equipped with protective plexiglass barriers. There were probably only 20 patrons at that 9:00 a.m. screening on a Friday morning. When the crowds are more robust El Capitan has automatic 3 seat spacing between groups to create that 6 feet of separation. There are plenty of markers outside of the theatre on the Walk of Fame pavement to keep people six feet apart. Masks are to be worn at all time except when eating or drinking. Exiting was no problem but if the theater is relatively full there are exits off to the side that will probably be used as there appeared to be plenty of ushers.

I arrived a bit early on the very off chance the amazing organ would be playing at the grand reopening but it was not. When I asked a cast member if the organist would be playing evening shows he simply informed me that cast members were slowly being recalled as the theater opened up. I wrote an article dedicated to the magnificent theater with pictures of the interiors and organ a couple of years back.

El Capitan's majestic back drops and glistening crystals set to an lush musical score lets you truly know that you are back in a theatre. After a year of watching the small screen this state-of-the-art sound system truly immerses you in the movie experience. To see a Disney/Pixar/Marvel/Star Wars film here is an experience you will treasure. There couldn't be a more appropriate film for 2021 than "Raya and the Last Dragon."

Raya meets Sisu the Dragon in "Raya and the Last Dragon." Photo © Disney.

If you are looking for a singing princess you will be sorely disappointed. This is an action-adventure film. It is a terrific mash up of Indiana Jones meets Black Panther meets Mission Impossible. We immediately meet the title character Raya (voiced by Marie Tran) sneaking into a temple, dodging traps and using her dexterity and warrior skills that would rival the Black Widow. This exciting opening puts one in mind of the thrills and adventure of Indiana Jones complete with sword fights, temples and traps.

We learn that the fictional kingdom of Kumandra was torn apart by mysterious and evil Druuns brought to destroy humanity. The Dragons sacrifice themselves so that humans can live. But the humans survive by dividing into five tribes fighting for resources and blaming each other for the damage done to Kumandra. These tribes are all named after different parts of the dragon and they are: Fang, Talon, Spine, Tail and lastly Heart, where our hero Raya hails from. She sets out on a quest to find the last dragon by visiting all of these kingdoms that reminds you of the lush and specific tribes in the fictional nation of Wakanda from Black Panther. The art direction on these places and the costumes of the denizens are truly stunning.

The last part of the mash up is "Mission Impossible" and it is delightfully used throughout the film. Raya meets up with many locals from each tribe and they team up to save their land from the Druuns. They roll out maps and the music scores swells into intensity as they plot and scheme. Directors Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada allow for different forms of animation projecting the missions that different team members propose. A lot of sixties spy movie styles with the screens being dividing by sharp lines showing multiple scenes of our heroes making their moves. For the James Bond/Mission Impossible fans you are in for a real treat.

If knowing that Raya finds the last dragon Sisu voiced by Awkwafina is a spoiler then Disney hasn't gotten the advertising to your neck of the woods. Awkwafina has the most delightfully distinct voice one has ever heard in a Disney movie. It's infectious with a sly rasp and lovely alto tones to communicate compassion and earnestness. Her comedy chops are equally fantastic. A stroke of genius in casting. James Newton Howard has to be mentioned for his exciting score that covers so many moods and styles. The music really makes this film shine with such a diverse and specific musical themes.

Don't worry if you are a big Disney fan, the film has Raya solidly a princess, lovely family dynamics with her father, and non-verbal comedic characters that Disney has made a hallmark since the early days starting with the mute Dopey. This film also comes perfectly at the end of the pandemic with themes of isolation, working together, trust and really lovely subtleties of the importance of water and ecology in our world. The gentle images of a stew being made with ingredients from Fang, Spine, Tail, Talon and just the perfect dash of Heart keeps this film from being over-preachy yet warms the soul like a good hot bowl of comfort food should.