Raya and the Last Dragon: Disney’s Newest Princess

Mailey Woolf, reporter

   Raya and the Last Dragon, the latest installment of the Disney Princess franchise, released on March 5. As a movie with strong female leads, Raya’s debut during Women’s History Month nods to Disney’s appropriate timing. Raya proves to be worth watching, maybe more than once.

   Directors, Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada created an original story, inspired by Southeast Asian culture. Much like Moana, Raya is one of the first Princess movies not based on a preexisting story, myth, or piece of folklore. 

   Raya and the Last Dragon, one of Disney’s most feminine animated movies, reminds viewers of empowering Princesses. Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) portrays a strong warrior, skilled with a blade and hand to hand combat, much like Merida (Brave) and Mulan. All three characters enjoyed engaging in combat and their skills became a strong part of their character design.

   Raya and the Last Dragon takes place in the fictional land of Kumandra, where dragons, furry rolly pollies, and farting bugs called “toot’n booms” roam. Kumandra’s five lands, Heart, Fang, Spine, Talon, and Tail, take inspiration from Southeast Asian cultures and geography. The animation style outshines Disney’s last Princess film, Frozen II, with gorgeous lighting, smooth movements, and immersive fantasy land. The reference to Japanese, Vietnamese, and other Southeast Asian countries, reflects in the building designs, food, and clothes.

   Raya demonstrates characteristics of a strong female lead. Her strength, determination, and strong willed personality matches that of Disney’s recent princesses like Merida, Rapunzel, and Elsa, but her hot headed tendencies, lack of trust, and infatuation with dragons sets her apart from the rest. Raya’s sidekick, Sisu (Awkwafina), adds another strong female presence. Sisu complements Raya well with her goofy, bubbly, and gentler personality, creating a dynamic duo to remember. 

   The villain of the movie, Namaari (Gemma Chan), highlights another side of female empowerment. The conflict between Namaari and Raya’s lands adds a more personal rivalry. Namaari’s blunt, decisive, and occasionally aggressive personality, creates fabulous conflict. 

   The plot of Raya showed similarities to Moana with the restoration of a magical artifact, but their similarities in plot end there. Raya’s journey across the five lands not only depicts a beautiful setting, but it also provides opportunities for each of the six characters to develop. As Raya journeys through Kumandra accompanied by her furry armadillo, Tuk Tuk, she encounters creatures and friends whom she must learn to trust in order to save her land.

   Raya and the Last Dragon proves to be Disney’s next best Princess movie as rumors build of a second movie. However, COVID-19 leaves many to question the safety of theatres. For those who do not feel comfortable watching in person, Raya can be viewed by Disney+ subscribers who pay an extra fee of $29.99. The movie theaters currently open take precautions on viewers safety, wearing masks, and social distancing. AMC ropes off every other row, allowing space between families. Masks are required, unless someone is eating or drinking, and hand sanitizer is readily available. Disney’s latest movie seems to be a great way to ease back inside theaters.