1. Raya and the Last Dragon’s pedigree is exceptional
We love Disney’s live-action remakes and Pixar’s wildly inventive films, but there’s a special place in our hearts for each new release from Walt Disney Animation Studios. From Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Lady and the Tramp via The Little Mermaid and The Princess and the Frog to Wreck-it- Ralph, Frozen and Moana, Disney’s animators have delivered the cinematic goods for 83 years. Steered by the director of Big Hero 6 – Don Hall – and working from a script by Crazy Rich Asians’ gifted screenwriter, Adele Lim, Raya and the Last Dragon promises to continue Disney Animation Studios’ phenomenal run of unmissable family favourites – this time with an unmistakable South East Asian vibe.
2. Raya and the Last Dragon’s plot is a Disney original
While Raya and the Last Dragon’s look draws inspiration from countries as diverse as Laos, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, its story is set in the fantastical world of Kumandra where humans and dragons once coexisted in harmony. That era ended when in order to save humanity from a terrible evil entity known as Druun, the dragons sacrificed themselves. 500 years later the different peoples of Kumandra are divided and that evil force has returned. With things falling apart it’s up to a lone warrior – a Guardian of the Dragon Gem by the name of Raya – to locate the legendary last dragon (Sisu, voiced by Awkwafina) whom, it is believed, can heal the world once more. But, as Raya’s quest begins, who’s to say that the true salvation of her world lies solely with the elusive water dragon she seeks.
3. Raya is an inspiring, self-assured protagonist
The Raya and the Last Dragon teaser trailer cleverly introduces us to Raya as a girl and a grown woman cross-cutting between two sequences separated by a decade or so. In the first, we see the younger Raya stealthily infiltrating a trap-laden temple system by night along with her sidekick, a cute-as-a-button creature named Tuk Tuk. In the second sequence, we see more of Kumandra – its four peoples and a desert-scape with towering, fungi-like stone stacks – and the reveal of adult Raya – voiced by Kelly Marie Tran (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker) – seen riding a now-massive Tuk Tuk.
The sequence that depicts young Raya showcases her smarts in sidestepping hidden traps and culminates in a ferocious fight between our hero and a sinister masked man. It’s clear that from the get- go, teenage Raya is already a formidable warrior, so we can only imagine how her skills have evolved by the time adult Raya sets out on her world-saving quest. As Tran told Entertainment Weekly: "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." Incidentally, Raya fights the masked man with two sticks – a style of combat inspired by the Filippino martial art, Eskrima (aka Arnis or Kali), perhaps?
4. Raya’s sidekick Tuk Tuk is utterly adorable
24 seconds into the first-ever trailer for Raya and the Last Dragon and we’ve already got a shoo-in for the film’s breakout star – Tuk Tuk. Best described as a surprisingly adorable blend of armadillo and woodlouse, Raya’s sidekick Tuk Tuk starts off the trailer as an entirely portable pet who rolls up into a shell-wrapped ball of adorbs to circumvent the temple complex’s hidden traps. True, Tuk Tuk does get temporarily sidetracked by a potential snack and needs an assist when he gets stuck, woodlouse-style on his back, but he’s obviously a capable, loyal and affectionate friend to Raya. By the time the teaser trailer ends with adult Raya struggling to roll a now horse-sized Tuk Tuk back on his feet again – “Tuk Tuk, you’re getting a little too big for this, bud.” – only the hardest of hearts will have failed to fall head over heels for him.
5. Raya and the Last Dragon looks and feels refreshingly different
Having watched and rewatched the teaser trailer, we can’t emphasise this enough: Raya and the Last Dragon really looks and feels like an evolution for Walt Disney Animation Studios. From the almost unrecognisable remix of the classic Walt Disney Pictures logo (accompanied by the otherworldly wail of a horn) onwards, it’s clear that however rooted in the Mouse House’s cherished themes of teamwork and self-actualisation Raya is, the new film aims to shake things up. Note the quick-fire editing of young Raya’s outfit preparations, the use of split-screen and the relatively naturalistic character design.
Note, too, a premise and world that feels as inspired by the likes of Nickelodeon’s The Last Airbender sequel, The Legend of Korra, as it does anything from the Disney canon. Perhaps the difference is down to Disney’s bold choice to include creative minds from outside of animation. Director Don Hall’s co-director is celebrated music-video director Carlos López Estrada, while Adele Lim’s script is a collaboration with playwright Qui Nguyen. Whatever the reason, we love how Raya and the Last Dragon is shaping up, and we look forward to updating you over the coming months. Watch this space.