Students share thoughts on “Raya and the Last Dragon”

Butler students react to the new release of the recent Disney princess movie “Raya and the Last Dragon.” Photo courtesy of Gamesradar.

MADELEINE HALL  |  STAFF REPORTER  |  mghall1@butler.edu 

“Raya and the Last Dragon” | PG | 1h 47m | 4/5 Dragons 

The past few generations have grown up watching Disney princesses command the screen, showing young girls that they too can be heroes. “Raya and the Last Dragon,” Disney’s newest animated film, gives audiences another princess coming-of-age story while also teaching viewers the challenges of going through growing up on your own.

The scene is set in the fantasy world of Kumandra, where long ago, humans and dragons lived together in harmony before the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. In classic Disney fashion, Raya, a striking female princess, leads a group of underdog characters to defeat the Druun — the same sinister monsters who threatened the land 500 years ago. It’s up to Raya to track down the last dragon to stop the Druun for good, as she learns that it takes more than magic to save the world.

Rachel Christie, a first-year history and anthropology major as well as president of the Butler’s Disney Club recently held a club meeting to watch “Raya and the Last Dragon.” Currently, the movie is only available to Disney+ members by spending $30 to watch, if viewers do not have premier access.

“I know that a lot of people haven’t seen this movie yet with it being on Disney+,” Christie said. “Not a lot of people will go out of their way to watch it just once because $30 is kind of a lot; it’s almost double the price of a movie ticket.”

Like Christie, Oli Culpepper, a first-year dance performance major, also decided to watch “Raya” with a group of friends. Culpepper said one aspect that made the movie memorable was the different storyline.

“A lot of Disney films sugarcoat the idea of how people obtain things; they don’t really talk about conquering, expanding or war,” Culpepper said. “The immediate assumption wasn’t ‘hey they’re doing this to save the world,’ like most Disney films, it was ‘they’re doing this to collect power to overthrow us.’”

For kids that may watch the film, it may seem like just another animated story, but for the adults watching, there is a deep political subtext to dive into. There is a sense of unity and togetherness that hardly seems political at all. And yet, even the prologue of the movie suggests that humans are their own worst enemy, which is far more serious than the other messages of Disney films.

Another aspect that was different with “Raya” than other Disney movies was the representation of different cultures. This story was based on Southeast Asian culture and in order to stay true to its authenticity, Disney formed a story trust of Southeast Asian culture experts. Disney’s proactive intention to accurately portray Southeast Asian culture signals Disney’s newfound prioritization of representation. Following Disney’s live-action Mulan, Raya appears to be a step forward since then.

Campbell Graves, a first-year economics and finance double major, said he was most excited for the art style and how it tied into the accurate representation of Southeast Asian culture.

“I’m really interested to see the magical elements and the cultural parts and how they play into the story,” Campbell said. “I know that Disney has had some problems in the past dealing with [cultural appropriation], but I’ve heard that they have done justice for this — like what they did for Moana.”

Students like Culpepper agree that the representation of culture influenced the movie’s art style. The art contrasted itself by having the environment and the people highly realistic, but all of the creatures, including the dragon, were drawn in cartoon-like fashion.

“I thought the representation of culture was absolutely stunning and beautiful and it honestly affected the way they did the artwork,” Culpepper said, “You can see that in the beginning when they’re retelling the past events, it’s done in this really distinct art style that is not Western.”

However, compared to Disney’s other latest releases, Raya seems to be underperforming. 

“Raya and the Last Dragon” was released on the same day as the “Wanda Vision” finale and appeared to have much less advertising than “Soul” or “Mulan” did, both of which also came out on Disney+.

“I feel like maybe Disney wasn’t as confident in this movie because I’ve seen way more advertisements for ‘The Winter Soldier’ than I have for ‘Raya,’ which I’ve only seen maybe two or three of,” Graves said.

Although “Raya” is a Disney princess movie, there is no singing, no love interest and no talking animals, aside from the water dragon Sisu. This distinction sets it apart from previous Disney princess movies as the second to omit a love interest after “Moana,” hopefully promising more strong, independent female leads in upcoming films.

“It’s definitely a different kind of story, I like the way that Disney’s going with the female heroes as their princesses, I feel like that’s a good step for Disney,” Christie said.

“Raya and the Last Dragon” is in theaters and on Disney+ with premier access until June 4, when it will be available to all members of Disney+.

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