Searching for Something New and Old: Raya and the Last Dragon


  If you haven’t heard already, now you have: There’s a new princess in the Disney canon, and she brings a rich history that stunningly blends the known and unknown to the table. Raya and the Last Dragon is found on Disney+ and select screens across the country, but it continues to make waves for exploring beyond much of Disney’s traditional cultural spotlight.

  Raya and the Last Dragon is a focal point for conversations about representation, done well or done poorly, because of what it draws much of its inspiration from. Southeast Asia, through voice actors, setting, customs, and even architecture, abounds through the movie, which adds a three-dimensional female lead, Raya, into the exclusive club of animated Disney royalty. 

  Senior Rajiv Chevannes shared his interest: “I haven’t watched [Raya and the Last Dragon], but I’d like to[;] it looks so good.”

  A major step for Asian representation, Time reports that the movie’s studio created the Southeast Asia Story Trust in order to more accurately convey the stories it meant to. A similar action was taken when Moana was made, with the Oceanic Trust being created to research and actively and correctly represent the nuanced cultures that the movie drew from.

  With Raya and the Last Dragon, similar efforts were taken, though the movie does not escape unscathed from criticisms. The setting of the movie, Kumandra, is a varied portrait of Southeast Asia as a whole, as opposed to a specific country or region. The blending of culture here, along with a cast that some argue overly features major East Asian actors, remains the most significant discussion about negatives within reviews. 

  Junior Samantha Villafane pointed out another barrier. For students not willing to go to theaters or purchase a Disney+ subscription, Raya remains a movie out of reach, whatever one’s interest in it. 

  For all the criticisms and barriers, however, Raya and the Last Dragon does play as an impressive movie.

  It builds a rich world, with a history that sets up the movie’s plot well in advance and fleshes out a meaningful storyline. Raya, daughter of Chief Benja of the Heart Tribe, faces a challenge that threatens peaceful civilization as division, fighting, and the darker sides of humanity come into play. Unity and an ever-present consideration of trust flow through the movie, and Raya’s journey to restore what was thought to have been lost permanently is a pleasant, exciting, and heartwarming watch for the whole family.

  Though the movie does not exist in a vacuum from context, its strength in design, dialogue, and plot remain even as discussions continue about the representation it attempts to bring to Southeast Asia. Wherever the needle lands, a thorough watch and evaluation is encouraged for one’s own pleasure; though it may be imperfect, Raya and the Last Dragon certainly does not disappoint.