Raya and the Last Dragon is another step in Disney’s mission to change the perception of what a Disney Princess looks like, and they do that with fierce characters and storytelling from Southeast Asia culture.
The people or Kumandra lived alongside beautiful, magical dragons that brought them water, rain, and peace. The evil Druun that Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) describes as a mindless plague and look an Obscurus terrorized the land turn the people and dragons in their path to stone. Mirroring a nation divided much like those currently around the globe, Kumandra is also torn apart by the people that live there. The film invokes the message that we have to come together and trust in each other to heal what has been broken.
Finding Sisu (voiced by Awkwafina) was no longer just about saving Kumandra. The last dragon shows Raya what it means to trust and look at things from a different perspective. Awkwafina steals the scenes with her quirky humor and one-liners, but it’s her heart that makes her such a charming character.
While Raya and the Last Dragon changes your view of the Disney Princess, it also brings a film with no singing characters and replaces them with intense fight scenes. Writer Qui Nguyen got a chance to choreograph the fight scenes with Southeast Asian fighting styles. The fight scenes were captivating and joy to watch because it showcases emotions we don’t normally see in a children’s film.
Interview with Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina about what it meant working on Raya and the Last Dragon
What attracted you to the project?
Kelly Marie Tran – “Firstly, just the fact that it’s part of the Disney animation world and, and growing up as a kid, that was, I was so obsessed with all of the Disney animated movies and recognizing the legacy behind that I think is definitely one of the things that attracted me to it. The second thing is just the representation aspect of it. Recognizing that this movie was going to be inspired by the part of the world that my family’s from made me really excited. And the third thing is that Raya is a very different type of character. And I think Disney’s really trying to broaden the idea of what people think when they think of the words hero, [or] when they think of the word princess. Raya’s unlike any princess or hero we’ve seen in this world before. And I think that it’s really cool to be a part of.”
Raya (and Namaari) represent a new kind of Disney Princess. Much like Moana broke the molds of the average princess (or in her case, chief) story, Raya and the Last Dragon continues this momentum. It shows the world that you don’t need love or pretty dresses to feel whole. Kelly Marie Tran talks about how there is a negative connotation to these stereotypes in previous movies. Raya is a character that is breaking these molds and bringing a new type of representation to Disney animation.
“I think the problem is when we sort of have a really narrow perception of what it means to be a princess,” Tran says. “I think what happens the danger becomes when we only see the same types of representation over and over and over. So you think that’s the only thing you can do. That’s when it becomes a negative thing. So it’s really cool that we are part of a movie that is changing [that], and Raya is someone who is a warrior and who gets to be really angry, which we haven’t seen before.”
Seeing a character that isn’t an antagonist get angry was a refreshing change for a Disney character in a family movie. It allows children to understand that anger is a valid response; there are ways of handling it, though. Raya and Numaari are fierce warriors that rise above their differences. Watching them hash it out brings incredible action to the story.
What do you hope fans take away from the movie?
Awkwafina – I hope audiences see the message that I think is a really big part of the movie. And I think of all Disney movies. But for this one, trust in unity over hate. And also, I hope that some people can watch the movie and identify a familiarity about the places and the people and the things that they’re seeing, and then people who aren’t familiar with it will gain some kind of understanding of what that world is like. I mostly hope that everyone enjoys it.
Kelly Marie Tran – I agree with everything Awkwafina said in terms of wanting people to leave with the idea that fighting for a better world, even if you’re living during a time where you don’t even know if it exists, is a worthwhile cause. Recognizing that the one thing to bring us out of all of this would be our communities and our relationships with each other. I think that’s something that stayed with me watching the movie, and I hope it resonates with people.
Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Raya and the Last Dragon’’ will be available on Disney+ with Premier Access in most Disney+ markets, at the same time as it is released in select theaters on March 5, 2021.
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