Raya and the Last Dragon is being dual released, meaning it will hit theaters on March 5th, along with Us Again, and will also be available on Disney+ with Premier Access (at an additional cost). The theme of this movie is very clearly trust and distrust, which is something the creators touched on in an earlier interview. They chose the lighting and camera angles very carefully for the scenes in order to show the contrast between these two thoughts.
When Raya has been betrayed, she loses her trust, but then she meets Sisu who is one of the most trusting characters. They go on a journey across Kumandra together in order to collect the pieces of the dragon gem, hopefully, restore them, and in doing so cast the evil Druun out of the lands. In talking with the cast, they all mentioned just how timely this movie is, and how much it means to each and every one of them for several reasons. The representation of Southeast Asian characters and culture, but also because of the message about putting aside your differences and coming together to heal the world. Carlos Lopez Estrada even said that the creative team had many teary conversations with all of the actors about just how meaningful this film was to them, and their passion really came across in the interview.
Awkwafina voices the quirky and hilarious Sisu, and her performance has been compared to that of Robin Wiliams’ Genie by many members of the press who have screened the movie. When asked about this she was taken aback, saying “Genie is one of my favorite characters –maybe it was a subconscious influence. Those are big shoes to fill.” She also added that what she loves about Sisu is that she is part hers. She helped develop her. When she first saw Sisu in human form she said “That’s me! She looks like me.”
“The relationship between Namaari and Raya is one of my favorites of the movie,” Kelly Marie Tran, the voice of Raya, said during the interview. Gemma Chan, who voices Namaari, added in that these two are the flip side of a coin, and you can easily imagine them having traded places, depending on how they were raised. While they did not get to record together during the pandemic, they were both impressed with how well the Disney Animation team did making it sound like they did, and bringing a chemistry through to the screen.
One of the writers, Adele Lim, really loves Raya and Sisu’s relationship. She makes a great point in saying it is “so rare that we get a Hollywood movie with this special female friendship at the heart of it.” The team decided very early on that the dragon would be female. Sisu and Raya perfectly balance each other throughout the film.
Kelly focused a lot about the relationships that Raya has with others in Raya and the Last Dragon and also touched on the one she has with her father, who is voiced by Daniel Dae Kim. “Benja and Raya’s relationship is reminiscent of my relationship with my own father.” She loves that family is an important part of this movie, and that there is that reverence for your elders that is important to the Southeast Asian community.
Daniel Dae Kim touched on the father-daughter relationship as well, stating that it took him a little bit to make it come across right. Benja is a King and a powerful man, and at first his voice was coming off too strong. But the producers gave him some advice that helped him find Benja’s voice. “You have a loving relationship with your daughter — take it down. It led to finding that relationship. It helped that I knew what [Kelly Marie Tran] is about. All of her characteristics are things I can relate to. Knowing who she is as a person helped that connection come through.”
The Message Of The Film
Each and every one of the cast members loves the message of this film. Representation, trust, and coming together. Here is what they had to say:
Izaac Wang, who voices Boun, says “it’s amazing to see all the things that are included in this movie — like the food and weapons. To see all the different cultures represented is really amazing to me.”
The voice of Baby Noi, Thalia Tran, spoke on how important this is to her as well. “Growing up in a Vietnamese family, family is a huge part of it. For Noi to be so young and to have to raise herself with the Ongies — that sense of strength is something that is common in Southeast Asian families.”
Sandra Oh, who voices Namaari’s mother Virana, can really relate to Raya and the Last Dragon. “I was extremely moved by the message of this film because I find myself struggling to trust. Art is here to pose questions and to suggest possibility.”
Gemma Chan is proud of Disney for tackling issues like that, saying it deals with “complex themes that are a lot to explore in a family film. And it couldn’t have come at a more timely moment.”
“I am thinking about all the children that will be seeing Raya, an Asian strong female who kicks butt and is on the path to become a Queen, a ruler. She is being groomed by her father to do that in a loving relationship. Exposure brings understanding and understanding brings change.” Daniel Dae Kim so wisely added.
Benedict Wong, who is the voice of Tong, watched Raya and the last Dragon with his son and when it was over, his son gave him a big hug and told him that he trusts him. “We need to unite. Our kids see-through color. We are living through the remnants of hate. Hopefully, our beautiful film shows that love can lead the way.”
Raya herself, Kelly Marie Tran, says “There is a moment for me, specifically with Raya, when she gets to feel unapologetically angry. To see a young woman get to feel that righteous anger… Acknowledging there is a lot of pain that happens. The only way to get through it is to look for the bits of hope in your community.”
About Raya and the Last Dragon
Long ago, in the fantasy world of Kumandra, humans and dragons lived together in harmony. However, when sinister monsters known as the Druun threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, 500 years later, those same monsters have returned, and it’s up to a lone warrior to track down the last dragon and stop the Druun for good.
“Raya and the Last Dragon is coming to Disney+ Premier Access on March 5th.