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Disney’s latest pandemic film release is “Raya and the Last Dragon,” an animated tale starring Kelly Marie Tran as lone warrior Raya, on a quest to track down the last living dragon, a.k.a. the only species that can stop the invading Druun monsters who threaten to destroy the world of Kumandra.
The film will be released in theaters and via Disney+ Premier Access beginning March 5, which means that if you can’t make it to the theater (or movie theaters are still closed in your area), existing Disney+ subscribers can pay $29.99 for a copy of the film that will be available to watch on a special premium tier of the streaming service for as long as you are a subscriber.
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“Raya and the Last Dragon” is getting the same innovative release model the company used for its live-action remake of “Mulan,” which was one of the first films delayed by the pandemic in 2020.
In addition to Tran, “Raya” stars Awkwafina as the voice of water dragon Sisu, who transforms into human form to help Raya defeat the sinister monsters known as the Druun. The official logline, according to Disney: “Long ago, in the fantasy world of Kumandra, humans and dragons lived together in harmony. But when sinister monsters known as the Druun threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, 500 years later, those same monsters have returned and it’s up to a lone warrior, Raya, to track down the last dragon in order to finally stop the Druun for good. However, along her journey, she’ll learn that it’ll take more than dragon magic to save the world—it’s going to take trust as well.”
The film features a slew of talent with Southeast Asian heritage, from writers Adele Lim and Qui Nguyen to cast members including Tran — the first Southeast Asian actress to lead a Disney animated film — as the title character, plus Awkwafina (as Sisu), Gemma Chan (who plays Raya’s nemesis, Namaari), Daniel Dae Kim (as Raya’s father, Benja), Sandra Oh (as Raya’s mother, Virana), Benedict Wong (as formidable giant Tong), Isaac Wang (as 10-year-old entrepreneur Boun), Thalia Tran (as toddler Little Noi), Lucille Soong (as leader Dang Hu), Patti Harrison (as the chief of the Tail land), and Ross Butler (as chief of the Spine land). Alan Tudyk plays Raya’s sidekick, Tuk Tuk, and the film is directed by Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada.
“Raya” assembled a Southeast Asia Story Trust of anthropologists, architects, dancers, linguists, and musicians to advise on the film, and the group made multiple trips to Laos, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Singapore.
“We looked for underlying elements, visually, but also thematically,” producer Osnat Shurer told reporters earlier in 2021, “like community, the commitment to taking care of each other. Visually, the martial arts styles are based on very specific Southeast Asian styles [Pencak silat, Arnis and Muay Thai, overseen by expert Nguyen]; the textiles in each land are slightly different; the prints are different; the importance of the river — it’s alive.”
Tran, who is the first Southeast Asian actress to lead an animated Disney film, told EW last year that she felt seen in a way she hadn’t before.
“She is someone who is technically a princess, but I think that what’s really cool about this project, about this character specifically, is that everyone’s trying to flip the narrative on what it means to be a princess,” the actress told EW. “Raya is totally a warrior. When she was a kid, she was excited to get her sword. And she grows up to be a really badass, gritty warrior and can really take care of herself.”