The world has been introduced to Disney’s first ever Southeast Asian princess! Raya and The Last Dragon was an action-thriller film that premiered on March 5, 2021. Just like any other Disney movie, the animation and storyline was excellent! This film is set in the fantasy world of Kumandra, where dragons and humans co-existed for a long time before evil forces wiped out the dragons. Our heroine Raya, along with the crew she met on her way, strived hard to unite all of the tribes in Kumandra. The film addressed issues such as trust, and how it can affect our society in both negative and positive ways, as well as how greed divides us.
Disney is finally acknowledging the world’s diverse culture as Disney princesses are becoming more diverse over time. We have had princesses inspired by Chinese culture, Native Americans, African Americans, Arabians and Polynesians. Raya’s filmmakers took inspiration from the cultures of the Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia; thus the film became the melting pot of Southeast Asian cultures and traditions.
This film also incorporates real life experiences. For those who are unaware, food is a love language for most Asians as well as a symbol of unity. This was demonstrated in the film when all the tribes were arguing but came to a halt when the mention of a gathering with food was made. Food played a major role in the film as it demonstrated how food bridged the characters’ differences and strengthened their trust. In an article by Disney, they described food as a metaphor of trust in the film. Jenn Fujiikawa, a Disney News Contributor, stated, “Southeast Asian culture has a strong sense of community through food, and throughout the story, characters eating and sharing their food becomes a metaphor for trust.” The filmmakers also talked about how their own personal food stories shaped the movie. Congee, shrimp noodles, mango sticky rice, tom yum soup, lanzones or longan, durian, and mangosteen were all featured in the film.
Of course, what is a warrior without their weapons? The arnis sticks were the first weapon I recognized. Arnis is a Filipino martial art that is recognized as the country’s national sport. Raya fought with these sticks when she was a child. She also used the keris, an asymmetrical dagger with Indonesian origins. This dagger is also said to be a spiritual object endowed with magical abilities. Finally, Raya’s bravery and faith in herself and her friends were the most powerful weapons she employed throughout the film.
I am not a movie critic, but all I can say is that this movie is a 10/10. The storyline, animation, character development, acting, and cinematography were all excellent, and I believe Disney outdid themselves. The story is easy to follow and it is perfect for the general public and kids ages 4 and up. The only issue that the Southeast Asian community had with this film was the lack of Southeast Asian cast members, as the majority of the cast members were of East Asian descent. Despite having Southeast Asian writers, the film was initially criticized for having only one Southeast Asian cast member, Kelly Marie Tran, a Vietnamese actress who voiced the role of Raya.
Because I am Southeast Asian, I became overly excited when I heard about this film. Given the scarcity of Southeast Asian representation in the film industry, the community is overjoyed and grateful at the prospect of this opportunity. The film was a breath of fresh air for me, so if that’s what you’re looking for, go watch it! This film was also filled with badass and strong independent women, so if that interests you, I recommend you watch it!