Even before Disney dropped the first trailer for their new movie Raya and the Last Dragon, I was honestly already quite excited.

Disney original animations are something that I’ve grown to look forward to over the years. It’s because I’ve grown desensitized to its other movies. One, the live-action remakes of classic animations often fall flat, are problematic, or just aren’t as good. I loved the original Mulan because of its message – that any woman can be Mulan. In the remake, however, Mulan was stronger, but she was special – she was magical. It put her on a pedestal, and she wasn’t relatable anymore. She was powerful, but not because she was a woman, but because she was Mulan. For me, it felt like a step backward – yes, we have a strong female character, but not one that’s inspiring or relatable anymore. It was sad to see Mulan go from being ‘any woman’ to ‘one particular woman that can’t possibly be achieved’. 

Two, the Star Wars sequel trilogy honestly offended me. I love the universe, but the sequel trilogy just didn’t make sense. From gaping plot holes to the way they destroyed John Boyega’s character arc, the sequel trilogy took many steps in the wrong direction. However, Disney has done a few things right, too. I loved their new animated movies. Moana was absolutely incredible – the animation was beautiful, and the story was simple, yet powerful. Frozen was so well-done, and was a lovely call to familial love, something I last saw in Lilo and Stitch. I’m excited for Raya and the Last Dragon, because I think this is what Disney does best. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of the trailer: the plot is set in the mythical land of Kumandra, which is ruled by five different clans. It’s established that the people were once united, living in harmony alongside dragons. However, an evil force threatened the land. Dragons ended up sacrificing themselves to save humanity. Now, 500 years later, the same evil force has returned. It’s up to a lone warrior, Raya, to track down the legendary last dragon, in order to restore the land and its people. Of course, Raya will face challenges along the way. She will learn that it will take far more than a dragon to help restore what was lost. 

The movie dives deep into Southeast Asian lore, and is the company’s first attempt into making a movie that addresses such folklore. It’s going to be a fantastic project for so many reasons. The movie is set to feature their first Southeast Asian lead – and Raya is voiced by Kelly Marie Tran. The writers are Qui Nqguyen and Adele Lim – who also wrote Crazy Rich Asians, and is Malyasian-American. The writers will also be working closely with a group known as the Southeast Asia Story Trust, in order to stay true to regional cultural references. The countries that inspiration will be drawn from include Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, and the Philippines.

Concept art and designs for Raya and the Last Dragon were pre-approved by a Lao visual anthropologist, along with several Indonesian cultural workers. It’s exciting because this isn’t Disney’s first attempt into making culturally accurate movies, either. An Oceanic Story Trust was also established for Moana, with amazing results. Working alongside cultural experts, rather than appropriating cultures entirely, does work. You’re able to do justice to the people, and get great movies, too. It’s a win-win situation, and I’m glad Disney is embracing this trend, and setting a precedent.

Representation always matters, especially with a global media conglomerate.

Disney has remained committed to staying safe and working within the confines of the pandemic. Unfortunately, COVID-19 struck at the beginning of production. However, Disney elected to continue working, allowing its crew of over 400 artists to work remotely. Disney also revealed that the team is halfway done with the animation. This fully-remote movie is beautifully animated (as we can see from the trailer), and it’s exciting to know that quality work can be done at home. This sets a precedent for working from home, which has become increasingly important as the pandemic continues forward in a second wave. 

It’s exciting to see a return to what – in my opinion – Disney does well. Disney’s animated movies are widely successful because they’re told so well. The movies that examine and highlight other cultures have largely been successful. Even a slightly older movie, like Princess and the Frog, was so pleasing to watch. It’s why I have still have a soft spot for Disney, and why the brand continues to excite me. It’s frustrating to know that the company that made something as beautiful as Lilo and Stitch also released the Lion King remake, which felt like they slapped a real-life filter onto the original and called it a day. 

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There are questions on whether this will be available in streaming services, too. Disney’s other movies, like Onward, hit streaming services pretty quickly, so there is a chance this will be available online very soon. It’s heartening to see Disney embrace multiple cultures and expand their canon of ‘princesses’. In terms of theatrical release, the current news is that the movie will hit theaters in March 2021, but there’s no way to be sure yet.

For me, I’m looking forward to Disney to redeem itself after Star Wars and Mulan. I’m waiting for a warrior princess that I can relate to, one that is culturally accurate, and with an exciting story.

I’m genuinely thrilled at this new wave of bad-ass princesses, and I hope Disney keeps ’em coming. 

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Natalia Ahmed

By Natalia Ahmed

Editorial Fellow