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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.
We've not seen a Disney princess for quite some time now, so when Disney announced a Southeast Asian princess, we rejoiced at the news.
Here's what we know about the film so far!
The team behind Raya Southeast Asia Story Trust
The filmmakers worked closely with the Raya Southeast Asia Story Trust, which consisted of expert consultants from the region. The film is set in a fantasy land called Kumandra, which is inspired by cultures from Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia. Head of Story for the film is Thai artist Fawn Veerasunthorn, who’s also behind the successful film, Frozen; while Laos visual anthropologist Dr Steve Arounsack, together with a team of Vietnamese cultural workers, lent their expertise as art and design consultants for the film.
Southeast Asian princess Raya is voiced by Kelly Marie Tran, while rapper Awkwafina voices the awkward, fun-loving dragon Sisu. Tran, who was born in the US and whose parents are from Vietnam, has featured in the Star Wars franchise and The Croods sequel. You may also remember Awkwafina in Ocean’s Eight and Crazy Rich Asians. Another CRA alumnus, Gemma Chan, is the voice of Princess Namaari, a citizen of the Fang land.
The language of Kumandra
David J. Peterson is credited for creating the colourful language in the world of Kumandra. First of all, Peterson is a pro in eight languages including Spanish, German, Russian and Arabic, and even has two degrees in linguistics. Secondly, Peterson actually created two languages in HBO’s hit series Game Of Thrones – Dothraki, the spoken words by warrior horsemen, and Valyrian, which is spoken in the eastern regions. We’re bowled over!
Peterson shares with Yahoo Lifestyle SEA in email: "I was first contacted about this project in 2012, and have been with every iteration since then. I haven't yet seen the finished product, and haven't seen a full script in at least five years, I think, so I can't comment on the results, or what work of mine has appeared in the film. My role changed a lot in the nine years between then and now, but I did do language creation work for the movie, at various points over the years. I am very much looking forward to seeing it, though!"
On why he accepted this job: "I originally took the job because I wanted to work on something my little sister could watch. Now she's 19 and watches whatever she wants. But I also now have a five-year-old daughter, so I'm excited to have worked on something she can watch!"
Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim were co-writers for Raya. Lim, who also wrote Crazy Rich Asians and One Tree Hill, drew from a number of Southeast Asia cultures, especially female characters in kung fu movies, as her inspiration for the film. She credited the spirit of these female warriors: "In terms of my personal inspirations for this, in the beginning, it's a bunch of different things, like growing up in Southeast Asia I watched a ton of kung fu action movies, which is more from Hong Kong, but the spirit of their female characters, that stayed with me a long time because whether they were the love interest or like the mean girl, they could still whoop your ass."
Working remotely during the pandemic
There was a line in the rolling credits (this writer has seen a media screening of the film) that caught our attention: The movie was put together from 400 over homes! When the pandemic hit, the Walt Disney Animation Studios artists were faced with the challenging setback of completing their works from home. Luckily for most of them, 30% of the artists were already working from home, according to Collider's interview.
Disney’s Raya And The Last Dragon opens in cinemas on 5 March, with sneaks on 4 March. It's also available on Disney+ Premier Access on 5 March.