A fantasy world about a girl and a dragon sounds like a typical Disney film, but ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ is different. Inspired by Southeast Asian culture, the anticipated movie stars Asian actresses Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina as the lead roles. Mulan won’t be the only Asian Disney Princess as Raya provides more representation for other Asian cultures.
The movie centers around the fictional country Kumandra, where Raya searches for the last dragon to save her world from the Druuns, evil forces that threaten humanity and can turn people into stone. From there, Kumandra split into different lands called Tail, Talon, Heart, Fang, and Spine. Raya eventually finds the last dragon, Sisu, after years of searching, and the two of them search for pieces of the Dragon Gem, an artifact that could stop the Druuns.
The movie takes pieces of Southeast Asian culture as inspiration for plot points. For example Nāga, a creature originating from Thailand inspired the character Sisu. Additionally, both of the movie’s screenwriters are from Southeast Asia, providing insight on how to integrate their culture into the movie.
The character Raya is a female warrior, and four types of martial arts are incorporated during action scenes. Pencack silat from Indonesia and Malaysia, Muay Thai from Thailand, Indonesian wrestling, and Arnis, a Filipino form of martial art. Unlike Disney’s ‘Moana,’ which received criticism for being culturally inaccurate, ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ makes an effort to integrate real culture from those who understand it.
The voice of Raya, Kelly Marie Tran, is known for her role in the ‘Star Wars’ franchise as the character Rose Tico. As a Southeast Asian herself, Tran provides representation for younger Asian girls to have a Disney Princess that looks like them besides Mulan.
Awkwafina and Gemma Chan also have major roles in the movie, as Sisu and Namaari respectively. Both actresses starred in ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ and further expand representation on the screen.
‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ will be available on Disney+ on March 5, 2021, as a Premiere Access title. Disney+ subscribers will have to pay an additional $29.99 to watch the movie. The movie will be available free of extra charge on June 4, 2021, and a Disney short ‘Us Again’ will also be available on that date.