News – PH – The flawed fantasy world of ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’


Disney’s new movie is the latest to draw on the real world to create a fictional land.But well-intentioned details can only carry a story so far

Fantasy worlds that reflect real cultures have a long history in storytelling Middle-earth, the four countries, Narnia, Westeros, Earthsea: these are fictional places populated by imaginary creatures and characters, but with politics, beliefs and cultural dynamics They license their creators to build a world with allegories on contemporary themes, but without worrying too much about fidelity to reality.For Disney’s animated films, such fantasy countries – Wonderland, Neverland, even Atlantis – are part of the cinematic legacy of the studio in depicting non-Western cultures, however, Disney has sometimes flattened the various cultures of a region into a stereotype-heavy place. Agrabah in the animated Aladdin was a visual mix of Middle Eastern cultures and was originally referred to in the song as “barbaric / but hey, it is at home “The characterization was reductive he and more offensive than blessed by Disney magic

Raya and the Last Dragon, Disney’s first animated film starring a Southeast Asian heroine, tries to be culturally more accurate than any other Disney project before, like the team behind Moana, inspired by Polynesian cultures, Rayas created Filmmakers a story trust of Southeast Asian historians and anthropologists who worked as consultants to ensure the authenticity of the film. They also recruited the Vietnamese-American writer Qui Nguyen and the Chinese Malaysian writer Adele Lim for the script and the Thai artist Fawn Veerasunthorn as head The story directors Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada wandered through Laos, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore and Malaysia to collect material that would help them shape Kumandra, the fantasy world that serves as Raya’s backdrop p>

And Kumandra is incredibly detailed The characters wear draped sabai tops and sampo pants and carry Kris-inspired swords and arnis sticks The martial arts choreography includes movements from martial styles like muay thai and krabi-krabong There are footage of durian and dragon fruit and the Vietnamese rice cake Bánh Tét.The fictional kingdom of Fang is based on geometric architecture from Indonesia, while Talon consists of floating markets reminiscent of those in Thailand The eponymous last dragon, Sisu (voiced by Awkwafina), is modeled after Naga, made up of snake-like creatures of Southeast Asian folklore These elements fill every inch of the screen and make Raya a breathtaking, lively spectacle. That was the point, explained Nguyen in an interview: “It was culturally like a bunch of Easter eggs for all of us to be able to leave: ‘Hey, you can find your culture in this movie ‘”

But culture is not a collection of Easter eggs. Despite all its dazzling details, Raya’s world building is at the expense of Raya (Kelly Marie Tran)

Raya even spends the first few minutes of the film going through the extensive backstory of Kumandra: the land once existed as a unified region where humans lived alongside dragons until purple smoke monsters called Druuns appeared, who turn living things to stone that saved dragons the people, but sacrificed themselves to the Druuns.The people who were left alone began to fight with each other and divided Kumandra into five kingdoms, each named after parts of a dragon: muzzle, heart, claw, spine and tail due to their different characteristics Klimas and their different values, each developed their own lifestyle and refused to reunite as a Kumandra.Raya sets out to unite the kingdoms, gathers a motley crew of wayward Kumandrans and forms a found family that teaches her that Trust is the key to unity

As great as Kumandra is, Raya’s story feels empty and irrelevant compared to the world around her. She acts like a tourist, hopping from kingdom to kingdom in search of pieces of a dragon noble to stop the Druuns who transformed her father, the chieftain of the Kingdom of Hearts, sure she deals with people from the kingdoms, but they mostly provide weird relief rather than acting as fully trained characters – one of them is a baby who just babbles and slapstick -Gags can produce In the desert land of Tail, Raya grabs the gem from the skeleton of the chief of the kingdom Raya is a quick-witted adventurer, but her character hardly reflects the extensive cultural research of the filmmakers Disney’s attention to authenticity becomes little more than a window dressing

Better fantasy worlds make their cultural specificity essential to the hero’s journey.In Black Panther, Wakanda represents Black Excellence, thus serving T’Challa’s arch as a man trying to earn his position as ruler based on the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender on Asia and is included in the narrative of its protagonist, the monk Aang. His plot includes Buddhist rituals and themes of harmony; He travels to four kingdoms not to collect souvenirs but to learn from the philosophies and lifestyles of each nation.The world of Moana draws on Polynesian cultures, particularly the tradition of pathfinding, which is central to the story of the main character is She sails across the ocean to protect her home island and to connect her people as travelers to her heritage

In Raya, the world doesn’t serve history so much The story twists in knots to serve the world This tarnishes the movie’s message with so little attention to the people of Kumandra’s kingdoms, everyone outside of Raya’s homeworld of heart – including each kingdom’s thinly drawn ambassador – is filled with disunity, greed and Mistrust shaped Raya’s attempt to reshape Kumandra is less a striving for unity than her own attempt to flatten five different cultures into one

The composite fantasy world as a narrative device has evolved.It is encouraging to see animation move beyond the raw cultural appropriation of Aladdin’s Agrabah or the beyond interpretation of the Inca Empire in The Emperors New Groove and have a fantasy world in of people with color are not treated as an exception. But the spectacle of a fantasy world can only do so much; A beautiful setting cannot compensate for a superficial act. Raya loses sight of her heroine’s connection to the cultures that the filmmakers had so carefully put into the authentic representation. As the Vietnamese-American writer Hoai-Tran Bui emphasized in her review: “A Seeing a familiar dish and hearing a familiar word does not have the same effect as seeing family dynamics on the screen “

Raya becomes the only Southeast Asian Disney title to become the de facto Southeast Asian narrative for Disney’s entire fairy reign. There are already Raya dolls, Sisu plush toys and toys from Kumandra Maybe there will be a sequel or series later, like the recently announced one for Moana Why the Filmmakers Want So Much Everything To Get Right Down To The Last Frame Is Understandable But Aesthetic Accuracy Has Its Limits Raya And The Last Dragon Is Down At The End Named raya, not after Kumandra, if the intent is to truly and fully represent a culture then people will represent it better than any architectural style, costume choice or fruit ever ignore them and the result is something like the dragons made by are consumed by the Druuns: conspicuous, but ultimately lifeless

Disney, the Walt Disney Animation Studios, the Walt Disney Company, Kelly Marie Tran

News – PH – The flawed fantasy world of ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’