Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon is a film that resonates not only for its touching story, but for its complex characters. They’re not perfect, and that’s what works. Raya and the Last Dragon is in theaters and available on Disney+ with Premier Access. In a Virutal Press Conference, many of the film’s stars voiced their support for the timing for a movie celebrating Southeast Asian people and culture.
In Raya and the Last Dragon, people and dragons once lived in harmony in Kumandra. However, the world was broken by evil spirits, the Druun, but also by selfishness. The people separated into different lands – Heart, Fang, Tail, Talon, and Spine – and now it’s up to Raya to help save the world and find the last dragon before the Druun turns everyone into stone.
Sandra Oh, who voices Virana, said, “What I appreciate about Fang and our characters, is that they’re complex. There’s no black and white in these characters, which I greatly appreciated.” In a time when it’s hard to trust others or even humanity, Raya and the Last Dragon is trying to bring that message of trust back, when it may be difficult. Oh added, “I feel like the storytelling and the characters, particularly Gemma’s character, Namaari, has a very nuanced and more complex look at things, which is where I feel like we need to bring storytelling anyway.”
Kristen Bell taught me in the Frozen 2 press conference that kids can handle more than we give them credit for, and Raya does a great job of helping children know that sometimes friendships aren’t perfect, that there is conflict in the world, and sometimes you have to take risks to open your heart again.
Gemma Chan, voice of Namaari, Raya’s frenemy, said one of the things that really drew her to this story was that Namaari is the antagonist, but she’s not a cutout villain. “Similarly to Sandra, I feel like, our world is complex, and the problems of the world are only going to start to begin to be solved if we all work together. The lack of trust and the division is a huge problem. But again, you can also understand why the people of Fang are trying to protect themselves. You can understand why we have elements in society that want protect to their own self-self-interests, and I think these are really complex themes to explore in a family film. And I applaud the storytellers for tackling this.”
Not only can adults learn from this, but so can children. As they are making friendships in school, and they have friends that may say and do hurtful things, how can they move past that? Should they? Can they be friends with others who appear to come from another world, but really there is common ground and a different perspective? The filmmakers from Raya and the Last dragon do an amazing job of telling these stories through beautiful animation and talent that brings humanity and laughter into these characters.
Raya teaches us to trust again. Sandra Oh says it beautifully that the truth Raya and Namaari learn is that “you have to be willing to have your heart broken again and again and again just to keep it open.”
Kelly Marie Tran, who received a lot of online bullying for her role in Star Wars made a good point that you can’t just say trust and everything will be fine. That’s not what Raya does. “Acknowledging that there’s a lot of pain that happens there and recognizing that and the only way to get through it is to look for the bits of hope in your community.”
In a time when there has been so much hate spread about the Asian-American community, Raya and the Last Dragon is important to show our families as Writer Qui Nguyen said, “a counterpoint and telling a positive story that just celebrates Asian-American skin and Asian-American lives and Asian-American people.”
One of my favorite Raya and the Last Dragon quotes by Chief Benja is, “Someone has to take the first step.”