“Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked.”
Except the Fire Nation in this case, is humanity itself. Raya And The Last Dragon is the latest feature from the Walt Disney Animation Studio. Don’t confuse them with Pixar, they’re a different studio. Disney Animation is the one responsible for Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph, Moana and more, as they moved away from 2D to 3D animation. Similarly to these previous projects, diversity is on show again, as “it’s about goddamn time” in Raya And The Last Dragon.
A whole new, mythical land based on Southeast Asian culture. These are countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and more which benefit from this representation. Thankfully, this story is handled by 2 Vietnamese writers, in Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim. So yes! Proper representation storywise from the writers! While it does err slightly in Directors Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada, the formers work on Moana earns some trust in delivering this story.
“But why are we questioning this?”.
I mean we should always be conscious of how peoples culture can be used or appropriated for the benefit of others. In the same vein, it’s also good to see powerhouses such as Disney use their own brand to attempt this. So how does Raya shape up? I think the mythical background helps produce a story that does a wonderful job of representing these peoples. While ‘Disney Face’ does pop up, and on a dragon (which I think is for a specific effect/gag), they do produce a set of characters that appear to embody these cultures. From Raya herself, to Naamari and more, they each have a touch to make them as close to unique as the other. Wonderfully played by Kelly Marie Tran and Gemma Chan, they’re also joined by Awkwafina, Daniel Dae Kim, Sandra Oh and the list goes on, cause “it’s about goddamn time”. I said what I said. Oh! And Alan Tudyk is playing another creature in the delightful Tuk Tuk.
The animation itself, is stunning to look at. With how they color and light the scenes now, it almost feels like Disney Animation has reached a new level. What this level looks like, is a mix of the film being 3D, yet having a sort-of 2D style to it. Kind of hard to imagine, but beautiful to look at. And then the music is handled by James Newton Howard because well, he’s reliable.
“BUT WHAT ABOUT THE STORY.”
It’s your traditional Disney fare. Which is good! That’s not to say it’s diluted its heritage. If anything, the background provides a magic similar to that of Moana; That is to see the world through another’s eyes. The visual motifs and how they explain the world and story, along with what must be fought for within it, is a message all of us should take on. How Raya traverses it, and heals herself thanks to a dragon and new friends, will always be cute. And these new friends at times, provide the most joyful scenes simply because of who they are.
Raya has definitely earnt her place among the Disney Warriors; Fierce, loyal and brave. She’ll be sure to fly (cause dragons) in cinemas and households.
Raya And The Last Dragon definitely deserved their time in cinemas, but are a worthy follow-up to Disneys Mulan via the Disney+ Premiere service.
Beautiful to watch, funny and endearing, with possibly one of the coolest creature designs churned out by Disney, do check out Raya if you have the time.