In October last year, Southeast Asians were shook when Disney released the teaser trailer for ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’.
The teaser gave us a glimpse of what Southeast Asian representation looked like in a Disney film, which to be honest, is very rare.
The hype for the film was further fuelled after we found out that our fellow Malaysian, Adele Lim, actually wrote the screenplay for the film.
And thanks to the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO), local cinemas are now allowed to operate once again which means you can catch ‘Raya and The Last Dragon’ starting 5 March.
We had a special preview earlier and here’s our honest review about the highly anticipated film.
#1 Cast and Characters
It is with great pleasure that we’d like to report for once, there’s not a sight of a single Caucasian men or women in this film on a voyage to colonise the land of Kumandra. Each character was designed with Southeast Asians in mind and you can see the spectrum of exotic skin tones and faces our region has to offer throughout the movie.
Finally, we have a film that looks like… us.
Generally, the characters have amazing synergy with each other from its leads – Raya (Kelly Marie Tran), Sisu (Awkwafina) to its supporting characters; Boun (Izaac Wang), Benja (Daniel Dae Kim), Tong, (Benedict Wong), Namaari (Gemma Chan) and many more. All of them had their own flairs, which added colours throughout Raya and Sisu’s adventures.
Our favourite character would definitely be Sisu, as her quirkiness, humour, and gorgeous fur charmed her way into our hearts. She’s definitely not your ‘Game of Thrones’ kind of dragon or the best one out there (as admitted by herself), but don’t let her sweetness deceive you as behind that glorious dragon mane lies a powerful, magical creature.
It truly feels like we’re watching Awkwafina playing herself but as an animated dragon. We couldn’t imagine anyone else playing her.
Tuk Tuk, Raya's trusty pet/best friend also deserves an honorable mention as he's so cute, your heart will melt in seconds.
At the end of the film, we realised that there’s plenty of girl power oozing throughout Kumandra as the regions were predominantly led by amazing strong women. So, you go girl!
We also did some homework and found out that the main cast was all Asians! So, good job Disney for shining the spotlight on us Southeast Asians.
#2 Southeast Asia Represent!
Now, this is the part where you’ll definitely feel proud to be a Malaysian and part of Southeast Asia.
From the beginning you’ll be treated to wayang kulit
elements, songket in the character’s clothes, and even people drawing batik! It’s like a visual buffet for the eyes and you can’t help to feel warm inside as it feels so, so close to home.
And they’ve even got the food as accurate as possible with a spread of tropical fruits including rambutan, langsat, durian, dragon fruit, mangosteen and Tom Yam soup cooked by Chief Benja made with ingredients that we Asians know so well – lemongrass, palm sugar, cilantro, and galangal (lengkuas
) to name a few.
We also found out a little secret when we spoke to a fellow Malaysian who worked on this film as a crowd artist, D'Lun Wong, who sneakily included a scene where someone is selling satay at the night market. So, keep your eyes peeled for this scene, because you’ll miss it if you blink.
The fictional land of Kumandra on the hand is a masterpiece of its own and feels like a mini Southeast Asia. There are five regions in Kumandra – Fang, Tail, Talon, Spine, and Heart, where Raya hails from. Each region has its own unique identity
The Fang region, for example, has plenty of Thai and Minangkabau vibes to it from its clothing to its architecture. Heart, on the other hand is located on an island, surrounded by lush tropical trees.
One can’t help but to wonder how all of these must’ve felt foreign to all the westerners watching. They’re probably thinking if a hairy fruit truly exists.
#3 A Magical Storyline That’ll Leave You In Tears
Most of you may know the premise of ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ by now, and if you don't, well, it tells the tale of Raya on a quest to track down the Last Dragon of Kumandra, Sisu, in a bid to unite the divided people of Kumandra and also to fight against ghastly beings known as Druun.
But what we didn’t expect from this animated film is to be crying bucket of tears by the end of it.
Raya and Sisu brought us all on a journey full of adventures while navigating through each region, which was never short of action and laughter from their expanding gang.
The beautifully crafted story ultimately taught us a great lesson about friendship, unity, trust, and the importance of making the first step no matter how hard it may be.
Plus, if you’re a ‘Harry Potter’ fan, there’s plenty of magic in the film thanks to Sisu’s powers, and that will, no doubt, leave you in awe.
‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ is definitely a well-made film that'll tug at your heartstrings, and at the same time, showcasing the colourful spectrum of cultures we Southeast Asians have to offer.
Extra points given for the amazing animation and attention to detail given to every aspect of the film from the patterns, clothings, architectures, fight scenes, weapons and of course, food.
As a Southeast Asian, Disney definitely did justice to the film we could all relate to and as a Malaysian, knowing several other Malaysian played a huge role in this film filled our hearts with joy and pride.
Kids and adults will equally enjoy the wholesome story and humour which will leave you wishing that you were also part of the adventure in search for the mythical creature.
Sisu may be the Last Dragon of Kumandra, but her presence opened a new door for us Southeast Asians to the world. This won’t be the end of us as you can expect plenty more of amazing stories from our region in the future.