Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)
Raya and the Last Dragon is a cinematic work of art that takes us on an extraordinary journey through a fantasy world inspired by the cultures of Southeast Asia. This animated film, produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, immerses us in the enchanting atmosphere of a unique and engaging setting.
Directed by Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada, along with co-directors Paul Briggs and John Ripa, Raya and the Last Dragon is the 59th animated film produced by the Disney studio. The plot was written by Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim, who also contributed to the creation of the story along with Hall, Estrada, Briggs, Ripa, Kiel Murray and Dean Wellins. The film is based on ideas by Bradley Raymond, with additional story contributions by Helen Kalafatic.
The heart of the story centers on the warrior princess Raya, played by Kelly Marie Tran. His mission is an epic one: to seek out the last dragon, voiced by the talented Awkwafina, in order to restore the dragon gem, which could bring his father, played by Daniel Dae Kim, back to life and defeat the evil spirits known as the Druun, who invaded the land of Kumandra.
What makes this film truly special is its deep roots in Southeast Asian cultures. The production team spent time exploring countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines and Laos to authentically capture the influences of these cultures in the world of Kumandra.
The development of Raya and the Last Dragon began in October 2018, but was only officially announced in August 2019, when the film's title and voice cast were revealed. During production, the film underwent some cast and crew changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the production team continued to work resolutely, using digital communication software such as Zoom to comply with social distancing regulations.
After a four-month delay due to the pandemic, Raya and the Last Dragon was finally released in theaters in the United States on March 5, 2021. However, due to the pandemic's effects on movie theaters, the film was simultaneously made available on Disney+ via Premier Access. This decision helped the film become one of the most watched titles of 2021 and generated over $130 million worldwide, not including Disney+ Premier Access revenue.
Critics praised the film for its high-quality animation, female empowerment, stunning visuals, breathtaking action sequences, fantasy world-building, characters, and voice actors. Raya and the Last Dragon received numerous nominations and awards, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature Film.
This journey to the heart of Southeast Asia is an extraordinary cinematic experience that has captured the hearts of viewers around the world.
The story of Raya and the Last Dragon
Raya and the Last Dragon transports us to an enchanting and dangerous world, where magic and betrayal are intertwined in a compelling plot. In the prosperous kingdom of Kumandra, once dominated by dragons and their magic, a terrible threat looms in the form of the Druun, mindless spirits who turn everything to stone. The only bulwark against this darkness is Sisu, the last surviving dragon, who concentrates his power in a luminous gem to repel the Druun and restore life to Kumandra.
However, the gem fails to bring the dragons back to life, and instead sparks a power struggle among the tribes of Kumandra, dividing them into five regions: Tail, Claw, Spine, Fang, and Heart, corresponding to the shape of the river that runs through the land , resembling a dragon. This division generates a conflict for control of the gem, which ends with its shattering and the awakening of the Druun, who begin to petrify the land again. The ruler of Heart, Benja, desperately tries to mediate, but catastrophe is inevitable.
The heart of the story centers on the young warrior princess Raya, trained by her father Benja to protect the gem. However, her faith in humanity is tested when she befriends Namaari, princess of Fang, and reveals the gem's secret location to her. Namaari's betrayal unleashes chaos, leading to the shattering of the gem and the return of the Druun. Benja sacrifices himself to save Raya, but the gem is now broken, and the world falls into chaos.
Six years later, Raya sets off on an epic journey across Kumandra in search of Sisu, the last dragon. Their goal is to reunite the fragments of the gem and finally defeat the Druun. During their journey, they make friends with extraordinary characters, including the young Boun, the clever Little Noi with his Ongi, and the valiant Tong. However, Namaari is always on their trail, eager to obtain the gem fragments for the good of her tribe.
The story takes a tragic turn when betrayal and fear lead to a conflict between Raya, Namaari, and Sisu, culminating in the death of the dragon and the release of the Druun. Raya and Namaari must face the consequences of their mistakes as they try to end the Druun threat.
Raya and the Last Dragon is an epic adventure that explores themes of trust, betrayal, sacrifice and redemption. Its unique setting, inspired by Southeast Asian cultures, adds depth and beauty to an engaging story. In the next chapter, we'll take a closer look at the characters and lessons that emerge from this extraordinary Disney animated film.
The Characters of “Raya and the Last Dragon”
Raya and the Last Dragon introduces us to a cast of fascinating characters, each with their own story and challenges to face. At the heart of this epic adventure lies Raya Benya, the courageous and virtuous princess of Heart. Trained to become a Guardian of the Dragon Gem, Raya is determined to change her father, now turned to stone, and restore peace to Kumandra. Her fierce dedication and desire to reunite her kingdom make her a character of great depth.
Next to Raya is Sisudatu, Or simply Info, the last remaining dragon. Despite his somewhat awkward appearance and somewhat insecure personality, Sisu is a brave, kind and wise being. Her power is linked to the fragments of the Dragon Gem, which allow her to perform extraordinary feats, including transforming her into a human. Sisu represents the hope of saving Kumandra from the threat of the Druun.
Good, a charismatic 10-year-old young entrepreneur from Coda, is a character who lost his family to the Druun. Determined to survive, he runs a restaurant boat and offers an infectious smile despite adversity.
Namaari, the warrior princess of Zanna, is Raya's rival. Determined and strong, Namaari is willing to do anything to protect her tribe. The conflict between her and Raya generates palpable tension within the story.
Tong, the last survivor of the Dorso clan, appears menacing at first, but beneath his imposing figure lies a kind heart. He has lost his family and his village to the Druun and joins the mission to defeat them.
Little Us, a 2-year-old girl, is a talented con artist who lives with Ongi, unique-looking creatures that resemble her. Her touching story makes her a fascinating character who has learned to survive on the streets of Artiglio after her parents were petrified.
Chief Benja, father of Raya and ruler of Heart, is a man who has always believed in the possibility of reuniting the five kingdoms of Kumandra. His tragic death at the beginning of the film sets off the events of the story.
virana, Namaari's mother and ruler of Fang, has a different view than her daughter on the issue of dragons and the Druun. Her decisions affect the fate of the kingdom.
Dang Hai, Artiglio's boss, is a controversial character who undergoes a transformation after being petrified. His story adds an intriguing element to the plot.
In addition to these main characters, the world of Raya and the Last Dragon it is populated by a wide range of secondary figures who contribute to the richness of the story, including Sisu's dragon brothers and sisters, each with a unique power.
The production of Raya and the Last Dragon
The magic behind the Disney animated film Raya and the Last Dragon is an intriguing story of change, cultural inspiration, and a team of creatives determined to bring an extraordinary world to life.
It all started in October 2018, when Deadline Hollywood reported that Disney was developing an animated fantasy film produced by Osnat Shurer and written by Adele Lim. Some of the talent involved had previously worked on other successful Disney films, including Frozen (2013) Z (2016) and Moana (2016). Initially, the film was untitled and character details were shrouded in mystery, but casting announcements hinted at the importance of a leading lady with Asian features.
The official announcement of the film came in August 2019, during the Walt Disney Animation Studios presentation panel at the D23 Expo. The casting of Cassie Steele as Raya and Awkwafina as Sisu has been announced.
However, the course of production has undergone significant changes. In August 2020, Disney officially announced the replacement of several cast and crew members. Don Hall, director of Winnie the Pooh (2011) and Big Hero 6 (2014), and Carlos López Estrada took over as directors, impressed with Estrada's work on the comedy-drama film Blindspotting (2018). Paul Briggs, initially co-director, became one of the story's screenwriters, while John Ripa was promoted to co-director. Original director Dean Wellins was instead credited as one of the story's writers. Here Nguyen joined Adele Lim as co-writer, and Peter Del Vecho joined Osnat Shurer as producer. Cassie Steele was replaced by Kelly Marie Tran, as Raya's character and the plot had undergone changes.
Disney's decision to replace the lead actress was motivated by a desire to give Raya a more complex personality, transforming her from a "stoic loner" into a character with a hint of "lightness" and "swag", similar to Star- Lord of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Kelly Marie Tran was chosen for her mix of "lightness and brilliance", along with a dose of courage. Despite an unsuccessful previous audition, Tran proved that she was the ideal choice for the role.
An interesting aspect of the production is that Disney kept the casting choices secret from the cast members themselves. Each was hired separately and recorded their lines individually. However, before the official announcement, the cast accidentally discovered the other members' participation.
To create the magical setting of Kumandra, inspired by the cultures of Southeast Asia, the film crew traveled to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Laos to conduct extensive research. The creation of the world was led by the Southeast Asia Story Trust, a group of cultural consultants, including Dr. Steve Arounsack, an associate professor of Lao Anthropology at California State University, Stanislaus. Thai artist Fawn Veerasunthorn served as the story lead for the film.
Film Sheet: “Raya and the Last Dragon”
- Original title: Raya and the Last Dragon
- Original language: English
- Country of Production: United States of America
- Year: 2021
- Duration: 107 minutes
- Report: 2,39:1
- Gender: Animation, Action, Adventure, Fantastic
- Directed by: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada
- Co-Directors: Paul Briggs, John Ripa
- Subject: Story by Paul Briggs, Don Hall, Adele Lim, Carlos López Estrada, Kiel Murray, Qui Nguyen, John Ripa and Dean Wellins
- Film script: Qui Nguyen, Adele Lim
- Producer: Osnat Shurer, Peter Del Vecho
- Executive producer: Jennifer Lee, Jared Bush
- Production House: Walt Disney Animation Studios, Walt Disney Pictures
- Distribution in Italian: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
- Photographs: Rob Dressel, Adolph Lusinsky
- Mounting: Fabienne Rawley, Shannon Stein
- Special effects: Kyle Odermatt
- Music: James Newton Howard
- Scenography: Paul Felix, Mingjue Helen Chen, Cory Loftis
- Art Director: Bob Boyle, James Finn
- Character Design: Shiyoon Kim, Ami Thompson, Jin Kim, James Woods, Gaspar Xavier
- Animators: Amy Lawson Smeed, Malcon B. Pierce III, Andrew Feliciano, Jennifer Hager, Mack Kablan, Brian Menz, Justin Sklar, Vitor Vilela
Original voice actors:
- Kelly Marie TranRaya
- Awkwafina: Sisu
- Gemma Chan: Namaari
- Izaac Wang: Boun
- Daniel Dae Kim: Benja
- Sandra Oh: Virana
- Benedict Wong: Tong
- Jona Xiao: Namaari little girl
- Thalia Tran: Us
- Alan Tudyk: Tuk Tuk
- Lucille Soong: Dang Hu
- Dichen Lachman: General Atitaya
- Patti Harrison: Tail Leader
- Sung Kang: Dang Hai
- Ross Butler: Chief Spine
- François Chau: Wahn
- Sierra Katow: Market Vendor / Fang Officer
Italian voice actors:
- Veronica Puccio: Raya
- Alessia Amendola: Sisu
- Jun Ichikawa: Namaari
- Valeriano Corini: Boun
- Simone D'Andrea: Benja
- Luisa Ranieri: Virana
- Paolo Calabresi: Tong
- Sara Labidi: Namaari little girl
- Charlotte Infussi: Us
- Bruno Magne: Tuk Tuk
- Doriana Chierici: Dang Hu
- Vittoria Schisano: General Atitaya
- Laura Amadei: Coda Leader
- Simone Mori: Dang Hai
- Federico Talocci: Capo di Dorso
- Massimo Bitossi: Wahn
- Marina Valdemoro Maino: Market seller
- Camille Cabaltera: Fang Officer