Disney’s newest animated film Raya and the Last Dragon is an inclusive and vibrant film that represents many viewers.
By Remy Zerber
Disney has added a new racially diverse princess to their collection. Disney’s new animated film, Raya and the Last Dragon, is about a Southeast Asian warrior princess who saves her kingdom from being frozen in stone forever. This film has broken many barriers starring a transgender cast member and centering around the story of a Southeast Asian princess. Her name, Raya has deep Indo-Malay roots. In Indonesia and Malaysia, Raya pertains to grandness or greatness. We often hear it also following the word hari which then altogether means "a great feast" or "celebration.” Raya’s story is inspired by Filipino, Malaysian and Indonesian culture.
This film has many references to Southeast Asian culture. For example, there are references to Thai, Malaysian, Filipino and Vietnamese culture. Raya’s pet and mode of transportation, Tuk Tuk, is inspired by a rickshaw (Thai mythical animal). Her sword is a “kris (or keris in the Indonesian language), a type of double-edged sword with a distinctive wavy blade that is used in Sulu and Maguindanao by Moro warriors.” She also wears a salokut, which is “a large hat of palm leaves in the manner of a parasol, with a crown about it of the same leaves like the tiara of the pope.” These are worn in most Asian cultures to shield people from the sun.
The film references Filipino culture because it includes a “bakunawa, the sea-serpent dragon in Filipino myths.” The dragons in the movie look just like bakunawa, with “an elongated and slender body with a horn at her forehead and manifesting the same power over water.” There are also floating markets in the film just like in many Asian countries. Also, ancient Manila (Manila is the capital of the Philippines) by the Pasig River used to be an economic center like this even up to the American Colonial Period. We also see paper lanterns that are very distinctive of the Philippines where houses are adorned by parols (giant lanterns) during the Christmas season. Several shapes in the film resemble pendants and ornaments from Vietnam.
One of the voice actors, Patti Harrison, who plays the Chieftess of Tail at the beginning of the film is transgender. This causes excitement among fans because she is the first transgender voice actor that Disney has had in one of their animated movies. Disney has only had one other character be transgender before and the character did not have that big of a role. Usually, transgender actors only get parts for transgender characters, which makes their job opportunities limited.
The protagonist Raya has also sparked fans to believe she is a part of the LGBTQ+ community with Kelly Marie Tran, the actress who voices Raya, claiming that she thinks her character is gay. She says she thinks Raya could have a relationship with Namaari her nemesis in the film. When she was asked about Raya and Namaari, Tran explained, “how queer people might feel represented by them on-screen, even if a relationship between the two isn't explicitly shown.” This inclusion from Disney would contribute to making characters that show the diversity within our world, and how important it is for children to accept others.
Disney’s new animated film, Raya and the Last Dragon is a beautiful film that tells the story of characters and cultures that are not usually present on the golden screen. Representing Asian cultures, and female empowerment Raya and the Last Dragon is an educational and fun film for anyone to see.
Ryan Ford '23,