Disney’s gorgeous new toon flick has triggered social media talk mainly because it flaunts ‘Asian inclusivity’. Lesser cynics have been quick to dub it a Hollywood ploy to expand the market. More vehement ones have pointed out Asia is much more than Southeast Asia, which the casting and setting of the film primarily represents.
Vietnam-origin actress Kelly Marie Tran voices Raya, warrior princess from the land of Kumandra that, all resemblance to Vietnam being coincidental, comprises townscapes and stretches expansive evergreen forests reminiscent of that country. There is a liberal smattering of other Asian origin names in the lead voice cast, too. You spot Awkwafina, Sandra Oh, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim and Benedict Wong.
Briefly, this is a story of humans and dragons. Once upon a time in Kumandra, we are told, humans and dragons lived in peace. Then came the Druuns, or monsters who threatened life, and offered to sacrifice themselves for the sake of humans. Five centuries later, the Druuns are back. Lone warrior Raya must seek out the last dragon in the land, to stop the monsters.
Raya And The Last Dragon has screenwriting (Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim) that strikes the balance adequately, between its stunning animation and mandatory comment about the importance of trust and hope in a world that is increasingly getting polarized.
Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Raya and the Last Dragon” is available on Disney+ with Premier Access and in theaters.