Has “Raya and the Last Dragon” earned all the hype it’s been getting?
Today, Disney dropped the trailer for its first Southeast Asia-inspired animated fantasy film. (A sad and worrying fact considering how powerful the mega-corporation is and how, according to Variety, it “owns all the mythologies” in 21st-century fantasy culture.)
— Raya and the Last Dragon (@DisneyRaya) October 21, 2020
Vietnamese-American actress Kelly Marie Tran voices Raya, the first Southeast-Asian Disney princess. She is joined by Awkwafina who voices water dragon Sisu. At the helm are directors Don Hall (“Big Hero 6”) and Carlos Lopez Estrada (“Blindspotting) collaborating with screenwriters Adele Lim (“Crazy Rich Asians”) and Qui Nguyen (Vietgone). It follows the story of a lone warrior trying to track down the last living dragon in the hopes that it will help unite the people from the fictional world Kumandra and fight the evil force threatening their land.
Nguyen said in a tweet, “The big dream has always been this: to write and introduce to the world my own original superhero that actually looks like me and my kids. This Spring, that dream finally comes true.”
Oh man, as a screenwriter & lifelong comic book fan, the big dream has always been this: to write & introduce to the world my own original superhero that actually looks like me & my kids. This Spring, that dream finally comes true. Here's our 1st trailer. https://t.co/CME7kCIdHT
— Qui Nguyen (@qui_writes) October 21, 2020
“I remember having this experience of recognizing some of the words and recognizing some of the names and the locations and even certain characters and our job descriptions of what influenced them to be a certain way,” shared Tran in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “I felt so seen, and it was such a blissful feeling. I don’t know if I can even explain it, but it was this surprise. I’ve worked on some things before which obviously weren’t as culturally specific as this, and I don’t think that I knew that I needed that.”
In a featured conversation at the 2020 VIEW Conference, producer Osnat Schurer (“Moana”) revealed that since the story is set in a fantasy world heavily inspired by Southeast Asia, their team took research trips to countries such as Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines. Part of their creative process was trying out SEA “martial arts and gamelan instruments.”
The trailer features characters with SEA features and elements of SEA culture that a number of netizens were excited to see while others remained wary of the type of representation the film offered.
Raya and the Last Dragon teaser trailer: *exists*
Me when I see arnis sticks being used as a weapon: pic.twitter.com/Qw15jorWYd
— Jᴏᴀϙᴜɪɴ (@quin_gaming) October 21, 2020
tell me why im sad after telling my mom about raya and the last dragon and this is the first thing she asks 😞 pic.twitter.com/RUVHDuLHcM
— 𝚛𝚊𝚒⚡️ (@cactuarina) October 21, 2020
There were media outlets who compared it with “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “The Legend of Korra” because of its storyline and how it borrowed from different Asian countries. Some were also uncomfortable lumping the two together.
it rly doesnt sit right with me that asian-inspired fantasy cant exist without being compared to each other :/
— brighty | carrd byf (@seelielovebot) October 21, 2020
Some also criticized how it oversimplified the character designs to the point where all the tribes looked the same.
-and hoping the viewers might pinpoint which tribe they relate to. hell, even some SEA friends are unable to identify a tribe that looked like someone from their culture due to how stripped of cultural accessories and similar all the tribes looked. i should not have-
— xin // TONY NOM AARON TVEIT (@lesmisquerade) October 22, 2020
Are you anticipating its release or are you sitting this one out?
Photo screengrabbed from the “Raya and The Last Dragon” trailer
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