Raya and the Last Dragon came out at a charged time. In March 2021, the anti-Asian violence instigated by the COVID-19 pandemic was reaching a new peak, just as Disney was releasing its first Southeast Asian-inspired animated film in theaters and on Disney+. Now, Raya and the Last Dragon‘s home video release on Blu-ray and DVD comes as the anti-Asian hate has far from diminished, and screenwriter Qui Nguyen is aware of both the pressure that puts on the animated film, as well as its perhaps naive message of trust.
“It’s one thing to say, ‘Hey, fix the world, all you have to do is trust each other,” Nguyen told /Film in an interview ahead of the film’s Blu-ray, 4K, and DVD release. “But with that said, I do feel particularly lucky that the one thing that we get to add to the conversation is a voice of hope, and a voice of what we hope that the world can do to make it a better place.”
But that didn’t stop the film from impressing even the most hardened Disney cynics, who praised the film’s stunning animation and thrilling fight scenes. /Film sat down with Nguyen as well as director Don Hall and screenwriter Adele Lim to talk about the timing of Raya and the Last Dragon‘s release, and how the intense fight scenes drew from Hong Kong action movies and Star Wars.
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Walt Disney Animation released a new Raya and the Last Dragon trailer during tonight’s Super Bowl, giving audiences another look at the studio’s newest animated fantasy adventure story. Kelly Marie Tran (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) stars as Raya, a lone warrior who goes on a quest to find a mythical dragon who will supposedly be able to reunite the lands, which have been at odds for years. Check out the trailer below. Read More »
The term “strong female character” is bandied about in Hollywood so much that it’s lost much of its meaning. It’s become a buzz word to describe physically strong and usually stoic female characters — not the emotionally nuanced and complex characters that should be the first thing to come to mind. But the largest flaw with the concept of the “strong female character” is usually that there’s only one of them in a major feature film, as if that’s enough to fill the quota. But Raya and the Last Dragon bucks that trend by giving you not just one “strong female character,” but three.
In Raya and the Last Dragon, Kelly-Marie Tran‘s titular lone warrior soon learns that she’s not alone, no matter how she would prefer to work. After gaining a new unlikely friend in Awkwafina‘s dragon Sisu, Raya quickly accumulates a group of allies — but you can’t have a team without a good enemy. That enemy is Namaari, voiced by Gemma Chan, a former friend turned foe who forms the third part of this all-female trio of lead characters.
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Raya and the Last Dragon came together under unusual circumstances. Completed during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the team of hundreds of animators, directors, writers, and actors had to work on the Disney fantasy-adventure epic from home and had to trust in one another — a bond that would spill over into the film itself. Raya and the Last Dragon is about “learning to trust” in others, directors Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada said during the early press day for Raya and the Last Dragon. And that couldn’t be more fitting, considering the unusual way it (almost miraculously) came together.
Animators had to work on scenes while balancing pets and kids on their knees, voice actors had to install recording studios out of their closets, and the directors and writers had to gather this all together while building a rich, culturally-authentic world with the film’s team of consultants, including the Southeast Asia Story Trust.
“It’s a story about trust, and it’s a story about people doing what’s needed to come together,” producer Osnat Shurer said during the press day Q&A.
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Raya and the Last Dragon is being billed as Disney’s next big leap in representation, as it takes place in a fantasy world heavily inspired by Southeast Asia and featuring the House of Mouse’s first Southeast Asian princess. But where do the lines of authenticity starts to blur? Raya and the Last Dragon is set in the fictional world of Kumandra, inspired by a number of Southeast Asian countries and dozens of cultures. It’s the same route that Disney took with Moana, a film generally inspired by Polynesian cultures. And the Raya and the Last Dragon team hope to pull off the same homage to a rich and diverse region with a Southeast Asian writing team, featuring Malaysian writer Adele Lim (Crazy Rich Asians) and Vietnamese writer Qui Nguyen (Vietgone), and a team of consultants and experts that make up the film’s Southeast Asian Story Trust.
“The way we approach [the film] is in terms of celebrating and lifting, [and] being really inspired by [Southeast Asian cultures],” director Carlos López Estrada told /Film in an interview on a Raya and the Last Dragon press day.
“I often equate it to like Excalibur,” added Nguyen. “Like to the Arthurian legend or like Game of Thrones where they’re pulling it from a lot of European things, not specifically Britain or Ireland or anything like that, it’s kind of a melting pot of European stories. It was such a pleasure to be able to create our own legend, our own fantasy, our own hero, based on cultures of a certain land and the whole movie, the theme of it, is about different people coming together.”
Read our full interview with Estrada, Nguyen, and director Don Hall below.
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