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Length: 90 min
Director: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada
Writers: Adele Lim, Qui Nguyen
Cast: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim
Score: 4 out of 5 stars
It doesn’t take a nuclear scientist to see that women brought a lot of sass and cooperative equality to this film. And this shows via the splendid writing by Crazy Rich Asians screenwriter Adele Lim and co-writer Qui Nguyen, coupled with major leads voiced by Star Wars star Kelly Marie Tran and Crazy Rich Asians alumnus Awkwafina.
Disney’s Raya And The Last Dragon travels to the fantasy world of Kumandra, where humans and dragons lived together long ago in harmony. But when an evil force threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity.
The film opens with a warrior princess Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) riding through a vast desert on her adorable pet and armadillo-sidekick named Tuk-Tuk in search of answers. Evil shrieking forces the Druun have turned her beloved world into a wasteland, but Raya does not admit defeat (nah-uh). She builds a ragtag army on her journey across Kumandra, including Sisu (Awkwafina), a sassy but socially-awkward dragon, and a street-smart boy chef. Together, they face Indiana Jones-like obstacles with epic swordfights in her dangerous quest to banish the Druun once and for all.
The fictional world of Kumandra shows tinges of Studio Ghibli’s ambience and imagery, reminiscent of 1997's Princess Mononoke and even 1988's My Neighbour Totoro - awash with lush, soft landscapes and colours. There are also some melancholy moments – which slow down the film’s pace and urgency – but give off the right balance given the dark, apocalyptic world the Druun have created. And they brought this writer to tears.
The film’s core message lies in the narrative between Raya, her sworn enemy Princess Namaari (Gemma Chan) and Sisu. All three female characters are bonded by an emotional connection of betrayal, trust and forgiveness, a dynamic that is pretty rare to watch from a Disney film. It’s a lesson the filmmakers have imparted that’s similar to modern-day circumstances without being too overbearing.
The film, which opens both in cinemas and Disney+ Premier Access on 5 March, is Disney’s attempt to put a cool spin on their classic princesses for a global audience. And just like the last kick-ass Asian princess named Mulan, Raya is equally strong-headed and confident; a wonderful character we should be celebrating. As a female Asian Disney fan watching the film on screen, I was bowled over by the accurate social and cultural codes in the movie, down to the batik costume attire and representation of food (because food brings us together!). There’re a lot of beautiful nuances in this film that I’d recommend you to catch on a large screen in the cinema and re-watch again on Disney+.
Raya And The Last Dragon opens in cinemas on 5 March, with sneaks on 4 March. For subscribers to Disney+, Premier Access to Raya And The Last Dragon beginning 5 March will cost S$38.98. From 4 June onwards, the movie will be available to all Disney+ subscribers for free.