Raya and the Last Dragon – (L-R): Sisu and Raya. © 2021 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
By Louis Chan, AsAmNews National Correspondent
Raya and the Last Dragon, Disney’s latest animated feature, debuts Friday, March 5 after being in development since 2018. It’s set in the fantasy world of Kumandra in Southeast Asia where mistrust may be the last barrier in saving humanity.
As anti-Asian continues to rise throughout the United States, the movie’s theme of trust has become more relevant. The significance isn’t lost on the cast and crew, including director Don Hall.
“There were certainly moments during the making of the film that we were very aware of how this film which was meant to be timeless was timely,” Hall said during a virtual news conference attended by AsAmNews. “It emboldened us to say what we have to say.”
Raya and the Last Dragon features a star studded Asian American cast including Kelly Marie Tran as Raya, Awkwafina as the dragon Sisu, Gemma Chan as Raya’s nemesis, Namaari; Daniel Dae Kim plays Raya’s father, Benja; Sandra Oh is Namaari’s mother, Virana and Benedict Wong adds his voice as the lonely woodsman, Tong.
Raya sets out to restore peace to Kumandra and seeks the help of the last dragon, Sisu.
“I don’t think we had any idea of what the world would become especially with the injustices to the Asian American community,” said writer Qiu Nguyen who wrote the award winning play Vietgone.
Disney hired Qui to write the script with Adele Lim in late 2018, well before the pandemic.
“It was important that the struggle that Raya faces is routed in the real world,” said Lim who also co-penned Crazy Rich Asians. “The way Raya goes to solve this is real. It is something you keep doing…we have to keep reaching out. It’s the only way to move forward together with the violence toward Asian Americans and seeing others as others.”
In the movie Raya and her nemesis Namaari have a long history together that began in their childhood. The hurt Namaari caused Raya is real and stayed with them into adulthood. However, so is their friendship.
Throughout the movie, the tension between the two built as they both struggled with their past together. Raya seeks to balance trust and mistrust with the message her father left her that she alone could restore peace to the land.
“It’s not black and white,” Chan said. “She (Namaari) and Raya are on two sides of the same coin. I feel our world is complex. The lack of trust and division is a huge problem. These are really complex themes to explore in a family film. It couldn’t come at a more timely moment of where we are.”
Kim loves the idea that these themes are playing out in a Disney film, one which will be seen by families alongside their children. He also sees positivity in audiences seeing a strong “kick ass Asian woman” in Raya.
Tran enjoyed voicing the “kick ass Asian woman” Kim described.
“Seeing a young women in a movie like this feel righteous anger, seeing all these attacks happen over and over. you get to that place seeing a very broken world,” Tran said. “That moment felt so grounded in reality. You can’t just say trust, yeah, its going to be fine. Recognizing there’s a lot of pain. The only way to get through it, is to look for the hope in this community.”
Sandra Oh hopes the message resonates with audiences during this difficult time for Asians.
“The world cannot continue without this openheartedness.” Oh said. “The truth of what Raya learns, you just need to keep breaking your heart just to keep it open.”
Raya and the Last Dragon can be seen in theaters and on Disney+ with Premiere Access.
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