From taking the first step, to becoming a real trailblazer, Disney’s “Raya and the Last Dragon” is the newest film in the ‘Disney princess’ franchise. Raya joins Mulan in the Disney princess hall of fame as an empowering Asian warrior, however, Raya takes it a step further as she is the first from the Southeast region of Asia.
“Raya and the Last Dragon” was released on Disney+ on March 5 for premier access only. The release date for all Disney+ subscribers is on June 4. It received a 94% from Rotten Tomatoes and a 7.5/10 from IMDb. According to Box Office Mojo, the fantasy film has grossed over a total of $28.9 million in just the U.S. and Canada alone, ranking No. 1 at the box office for its first three weeks.
In the film, Princess Raya, played by Kelly Marie Tran, must find the last dragon, Sisu, played by Awkwafina, to eradicate the dark force that threatens the land of Kumandra, and restore peace and trust to everyone.
Asian Student Union President Sophia Michalski sees a connection between the film’s subject matter and the recent rise in anit-Asian hate crimes.
“I think Disney created (and) released ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ because of the popularity surrounding the activism that arose (in response) to the hate crimes and racism,” she said.
Although there aren’t any whimsical musical numbers in the film, which hasn’t been absent in an animated Disney Princess film since “Brave,” the film still had familiar elements that qualified it to be a classic Disney fairytale. For instance, there were amazing graphics and colorful sequences that created some unforgettable scenes.
“(It was) much different from what Disney normally does. I thought it was cool that Disney went as far as to include foods ... the congee, a very specific porridge made from rice, the stew in which they use different ingredients like palm sugar, bamboo shoots and shrimp paste. Another thing that was more specific to culture, the architecture and their (outfits),” she said.
Before the film’s release, there was controversy on the fact that there were only five actors who were of southeast Asian heritage, including lead actress Kelly Marie Tran. The rest were of East Asian Heritage. Michalski addressed this issue, calling out Disney for their laziness.
“Odds are (Disney) could take the time to find some really good unknown Southeast Asian actors and they could’ve recruited them, but instead they went with people who already have a name, like Awkwafina. If you’re basing a movie off of Southeast Asians, don’t just have (a few) as the lead, make the entire cast Southeast Asian,” she said.
Michalski delved deeper to list the things Disney could have improved on.
“The way they made Kumandra and its inhabitants a kind of mixture for all of Southeast Asia (can be) bad because there’s the danger of then saying, ‘What’s the use of learning these individual cultures, differentiating them, erasing the fact that these are different cultures with their own unique traditions and lifestyles?’ Already there’s a stereotype that (Asians) all look alike. When people say Asian, they’re really thinking about East Asians and it completely erases Southeast, South and West Asians,” she said.
“Raya and the Last Dragon” is now available through Premiere Access on Disney Plus, and in select theaters. It is scheduled to be released by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment on Digital HD on April 2, and on DVD, Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray on May 18.