Raya And The Last Dragon; Voice Cast: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Sandra Oh, Benedict Wong, Izaac Wang, Thalia Tran; Direction: Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada; Rating: * * * (three stars)
BY VINAYAK CHAKRAVORTY
Disney’s gorgeous new toon flick has triggered social media talk mainly because it flaunts ‘Asian inclusivity’. Lesser cynics have been quick to dub it a Hollywood ploy to expand market. More vehement ones have pointed out Asia is much more than Southeast Asia, which the casting and setting of the film primarily represents.
Vietnam-origin actress Kelly Marie Tran voices Raya, warrior princess from the land of Kumandra that, all resemblance to Vietnam being coincidental, comprises townscapes and stretches expansive evergreen forests reminiscent of that country. There is a liberal smattering of other Asian origin names in the lead voice cast, too. You spot Awkwafina, Sandra Oh, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim and Benedict Wong.
An idea of the cast and backdrop is important to understand fact that the film is also an effort on Hollywood’s part to serve some exotic entertainment, duly Americanised for its core audience (Asian locals speaking in English with an American twang, after all, don’t do much to boost authenticity).
Briefly, this is a story of humans and dragons. Once upon a time in Kumandra, we are told, humans and dragons lived in peace. Then came the Druuns, or monsters who threatened life, and the offered to sacrifice themselves for the sake of humans. Five centuries later, the Druuns are back. Lone warrior Raya must seek out the last dragon in the land, to stop the monsters.
Directors Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada have created a film that, like most Hollywood animated attempts, aims at regaling more than just the little ones. So, while the action adventure, spectacular CGI and quirky characters should entertain across age groups, there is a finer socio-political subtext aimed at reaching out to the adult mind, too.
Raya And The Last Dragon has screen writing (Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim) that strikes the balance adequately, between its stunning animation and mandatory comment about the importance of trust and hope in a world that is increasingly getting polarised.
For that reason the film lives up to the Disney signature as a cinematic effort and, never mind the fact that its Asian representation could come across as skewed in imagination to many, it fulfils its Disney Duty of working as a screen fable. This is not the defining effort coming out of the studio in recent years but it sure stands for a specific thought process.