Disney's 'Raya and the Last Dragon' Is Based on Southeast Asian Culture

Disney just dropped the first trailer for 'Raya and the Last Dragon,' and many viewers are wondering what country's culture the film is based on.

Sara Belcher - Author

Oct. 22 2020, Updated 4:37 p.m. ET

raya and the last dragon country
Source: Disney

Disney just dropped its first look at the upcoming animated movie Raya and the Last Dragon. Coming from the same studio that produced Moana and Frozen, this new Disney film follows Raya, who was trained to guard the dragon gem and is now on a quest to find the last dragon in an effort to bring peace to her divided people.

The film isn't expected to hit theaters until March 2021, but that hasn't stopped those who saw the first trailer from being excited about its release.

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The film is based very heavily on Southeast Asian cultures, and similar to Moana, many want to know how accurately the film will portray the culture of the people it's meant to represent. That leads to the question: Is there one Southeast Asian country's culture that Raya and the Last Dragon is based on, or who is the film meant to represent?

Source: Disney
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'Raya and the Last Dragon's Kumandra is based on multiple Southeast Asian countries.

Raya and the Last Dragon takes place in the fictional world of Kumandra, but it's actually based on the culture of multiple Southeast Asian countries. According to The Hollywood Reporter, when the filmmakers were working on the film, they visited multiple countries in the region to conduct research, including Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

But regional research was only a small portion of the research done for the animated film. Much of Raya's journey involves utilizing her martial arts skills, and the producers even dressed her in traditional warrior attire and gave her Eskrima sticks. According to the outlet, the filmmakers also attempted various martial arts while conducting their research. They even used gamelan instruments in their conceptual process.

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The film takes place in what Disney is calling "a reimagined Earth inhabited by an ancient civilisation that venerated the mythical dragons for their power and their wisdom," but unlike some of their previous films that have drawn criticism for its lack of correct cultural context, it seems this animated film brings together many pieces of traditional Southeast Asian cultures.

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Viewers have high hopes for the film.

The first trailer hasn't been out that long, but viewers are already extremely excited about the film, and many have high hopes that it will provide the representation they have been asking from Disney for a long time.

In the first wave of reactions, many point to Raya's use of Arnis as a weapon as a reason to be excited, in addition to the fact that most of the characters in the movie are people of color.

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Raya is also voiced by Kelly Marie Tran, who is a Vietnamese-American actress (you'll remember her as Rose Tico from the recent Star Wars movies). According to the Southeast Asian branch of IGN, Kelly will be the first Southeast Asian actress to fully voice a Disney princess. 

For the film, Disney also contracted Adele Lim and Qui Nguyen to write the script. Adele was born in Malaysia and previously co-wrote the script for Crazy Rich Asians. Qui is a Vietnamese-American playwright whose previous work on The Society and Dispatches From Elsewhere landed him the co-writing role.

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