ReviewRaya and the Last Dragon movie review: Disney animation inspired by Southeast Asian culture
- This story of a warrior princess trying to save her land takes inspiration from Southeast Asian culture, with input from anthropologists
- However, his is no cultural appropriation – unless you count the shameless references to the Indiana Jones movies
The first original Walt Disney Animation in nearly five years, Raya and the Last Dragon is set in a realm known as Kumandra – a reimagined version of our world heavily inspired by Southeast Asian culture.
If this might have some up in arms about a Hollywood studio once again trampling into another continent for a swift bit of cultural appropriation, it’d be an unfair accusation.
Disney’s Southeast Asian Story Trust, a coalition of anthropologists and other specialists, led the scrupulous research for the project, while Thai-born Fawn Veerasunthorn (Moana) is credited as head of story.
It means this brightly hued fantasy comes with a feeling of authenticity, rather than being just another cartoon cranked out to appeal to the Asian market.
Joining them are a ragbag of characters, including a light-fingered toddler, three monkey-like creatures and Tuk Tuk, a sort of armadillo-pill-bug hybrid that rolls around like an armoured tank.
Directed by Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada, Raya and the Last Dragon may be ultra-respectful to Asian culture, but it’s less concerned with plundering from Indiana Jones; as our heroine traverses booby-trapped catacombs, there’s a real feeling of Steven Spielberg’s intrepid archeologist here.
The animation even switches to anime for one delightful section where they hatch out a plan to retrieve one of the gems.
Awkwafina’s rat-a-tat-tat patter (something of an equivalent to Robin Williams’ Genie in Aladdin) brings the story alive, adding another memorable character to the Disney canon.
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