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Raya and the Last Dragon

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Raya and the Last Dragon
Promotional release poster of Raya and the Last Dragon depicting Raya and Sisu along with other people in Kumandra
Release poster
Directed by
Screenplay by
Story by
  • Paul Briggs
  • Don Hall
  • Adele Lim
  • Carlos López Estrada
  • Kiel Murray[1]
  • Qui Nguyen
  • John Ripa
  • Dean Wellins[2]
Produced by
Starring
Cinematography
  • Rob Dressel (layout)[3]
  • Adolph Lusinsky (lighting)[3]
Edited by
  • Fabienne Rawley[4]
  • Shannon Stein[4]
Music byJames Newton Howard
Production
companies
Distributed byWalt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Release date
  • March 5, 2021 (2021-03-05) (United States)
Running time
107 minutes[5]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$100 million+
Box office$130.3 million

Raya and the Last Dragon (/ˈr.ə/ RYE) is a 2021 American computer-animated fantasy action-adventure film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios. The 59th film produced by the studio, it is directed by Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada, and is based on traditional Southeast Asian cultures. It was written by Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim, and it stars Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Izaac Wang, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, and Sandra Oh. The film depicts a warrior princess who sought for the fabled last dragon, with hopes of restoring the dragon gem that would bring back her father and banish the evil spirits known as the Druun from the land of Kumandra.

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures released Raya and the Last Dragon in cinemas in the United States on March 5, 2021, in 2D, 3D, Dolby Cinema, and IMAX formats. The film was simultaneously available on Disney+ Premier Access as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic's effects on movie theaters. In July 2021, shortly after its premium access run, the film became the second most-viewed streaming title behind Netflix's fifth season of Lucifer.

As of October 2021, the film has grossed over $130 million worldwide and received largely positive reviews from critics, who praised the animation, visuals, action sequences, musical score, voice acting, story, and messages. The film, however, drew slight criticism for its non-representation of Southeast Asian actors for its voice cast.

Plot

The prosperous land of Kumandra is ravaged by the Druun, evil spirits that turn people and dragons to stone. Sisu, the last dragon, concentrates her magic into a gem and banishes the Druun, reviving Kumandra's people but not the dragons. A power struggle for the gem divides Kumandra's people into five tribes called Fang, Heart, Spine, Talon, and Tail, which are named for their placement along a dragon-shaped river.[6]

Five hundred years later, Chief Benja of the Heart tribe, which retains possession of the dragon gem, trains his daughter Raya to protect the gem. Firmly believing Kumandra can be reunited, Benja holds a feast for the leadership of all five tribes. During the feast, Raya befriends Namaari, the daughter of Chief Virana of the Fang tribe, who gives Raya a dragon pendant and tells her of a legend that says the dragon Sisu still exists and can be summoned. Trusting Namaari, Raya shows her the gem's location. Namaari betrays Raya as part of a plot to help Fang steal the gem. Alerted to the attack, Benja and the other tribes arrive and start fighting over the gem, which breaks into five pieces in the scuffle. Members of each tribe steal a piece of the gem, and the Druun awake, overtake Heart and its people, and spread across the rest of Kumandra. Observing the Druun's aversion to water, Benja saves Raya by throwing her into the river before he becomes petrified.

For the next six years, Raya treks across Kumandra searching for Sisu to have her create another gem and banish the Druun once more. She manages to summon Sisu at a shipwreck in Tail; Sisu admits that she did not create the gem, but wielded it on behalf of her four siblings, who each contributed their magic to the gem. Raya and Sisu resolve to take back the four stolen pieces of the gem, reassemble it and use it to banish the Druun and restore Raya's father and others who were petrified.

Raya and Sisu travel through Tail, Talon, and Spine, reclaiming pieces of the gem and making new friends: the young restaurateur Boun, the baby con artist Little Noi, and the warrior Tong, all of whom have lost loved ones to the Druun. Namaari pursues Raya, hoping to gain the gem shards for the Fang tribe. Raya, not fully trusting their new companions, insists Sisu remain disguised as a human but Sisu reveals herself to save Raya from Namaari at Spine.

At Fang, Sisu persuades Raya to try to ally with Namaari rather than stealing the final piece of the gem. As a gesture of trust, Raya returns the pendant Namaari gave her years ago. Namaari, torn between her responsibility to Fang and her wish to help defeat the Druun, threatens them with a crossbow. Sisu tries to calm Namaari but Raya attacks with her sword, causing Namaari's crossbow to fire and kill Sisu.

Sisu's death causes water to disappear from Fang's protective canal, allowing the Druun to overrun the realm. Raya pursues Namaari, whom she finds grieving the petrification of her mother. Raya and Namaari fight while Raya's companions use the gem pieces to evacuate the people of Fang. Raya defeats and prepares to kill Namaari but stops after realizing her own role in Sisu's death due to her inability to trust others. Raya and Namaari go to aid the others. As the Druun gain on her group, Raya remembers how trust allowed Sisu to save the world. She urges the others to unite and reassemble the gem, showing her faith in Namaari by handing over her gem piece and allowing the Druun to take her. The rest follow suit and Namaari reassembles the gem before the Druun petrify her as well. With the dragon gem reassembled, the Druun are vanquished and all victims of the Druun, including the dragons, who resurrect Sisu, are revived. The group reunites with their lost loved ones, including Raya and her father, and the tribes gather at Heart to reunify as Kumandra.

Cast

The film featured the voice of Dichen Lachman as both General Atitaya of Fang and a Spine warrior; Patti Harrison was cast as the chief of Tail;[17] Dumbfoundead portrayed Chai, a flower guy; Sung Kang voices Dang Hai, the former chief of Talon; Sierra Katow voices both a Talon merchant and a Fang officer; Ross Butler voices the chief of Spine; François Chau voices Wahn; and Gordon Ip and Paul Yen voice Talon merchants.[15][18]

Production

Development

In October 2018, Deadline Hollywood reported Disney was developing a fantasy animated film, which would be produced Osnat Shurer from a screenplay by Adele Lim with additional directorial debuts by Paul Briggs and Dean Wellins. Most of them have been involved in other Disney films including Frozen (2013), Zootopia (2016) and Moana (2016). The film was untitled at the time as part of a bigger development secrecy in timeline and characters, but it's employment details hinted it would involve a female protagonist with Asian materials.[19] In August 2019, Disney officially announced the film during its D23 Expo Walt Disney Animation Studios' presentation panel. They also announced the casting of Cassie Steele as Raya and of Awkwafina as Sisu.[20][21]

In August 2020, Disney replaced several crew members. Don Hall, director of Winnie the Pooh (2011) and Big Hero 6 (2014), and Carlos López Estrada, who had joined Disney Animation in 2019, took over as directors at an unexpected invitation upon impressed by his directorial work on comedy-drama film Blindspotting (2018). Briggs joined John Ripa as one of the screenwriters, having been demoted from his initial position as co-director.[22] In addition, Qui Nguyen joined Lim as co-writer and Peter Del Vecho joined Shurer as producer.[23][24][25] Steele was also replaced by Kelly Marie Tran due to changes in characters and plot. Shurer said the cast must embody the same spirits as the character and that Tran was better suited for the role.[26]

According to Hall, Disney recast the role because Raya was originally a "stoic loner" but the team began to infuse her with elements of "levity" and "swagger" similar to the character of Star-Lord in Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).[27] The Hollywood Reporter said Tran was selected for her "lightness and buoyancy, but also badassery".[27] Tran had to learn to trust the production team because she had unsuccessfully auditioned for the role of Raya. By January 2020, when Tran replaced Steele as Raya, she was aware Disney Animation had already rejected her and replaced another female actor.[28] Disney's casting choices on Raya and the Last Dragon were kept secret from the cast members; Disney hired each of them separately and had them record their lines individually. The cast, however, accidentally discovered each other's involvement before Disney officially revealed the cast list.[29]

The film is set in a fantasy land called Kumandra, inspired by the Southeast Asian cultures of Brunei, Singapore, Laos, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.[30] To do background research, the filmmakers and production team traveled to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Laos.[31] The filmmakers formed the Southeast Asia Story Trust, a collective of cultural consultants for the film which included Dr. Steve Arounsack, an associate professor of Lao Anthropology at California State University, Stanislaus.[32] Thai artist Fawn Veerasunthorn served as the head of story for the film.[33]

To choose the protagonist's name, the filmmakers reviewed dozens of suggestions recommended by experts from Disney's Southeast Asia Story Trust. Screenwriter Adele Lim had an emotional reaction when she first heard the name "Raya", which means "celebration" in Malay.[32] To prevent further spread of the SARS CoV-2 virus during the COVID-19 pandemic, the filmmakers practiced social distancing, working from home using digital communication software such as Zoom.[34]

Animation

Raya and the Last Dragon portrays a combination of Southeast Asian cultures; Raya's hat is identical to the Philippines' traditional headgear while her fighting techniques come from Malaysian and Indonesian battle traditions.[35] Water is one of the plot's central elements; it is used to illustrate Raya's emotional growth. Smoothly colored bodies of water represent moments in which Raya feels close to those around her while distrust is represented by water bodies depicted with higher contrast that dramatizes shadows and silhouettes.[36] Raya's costume design, hairstyle, and equipment are also based on her fighting ability and traditional Southeast Asian garments.[32]

Production of the film was supervised by executive producer Jennifer Lee, chief creative officer of Disney Animation. Kelsey Hurley supervised an all-female leadership team with the help of associate technical supervisors Gabriela Hernandez and Shweta Viswanathan. This team oversaw the flow of technical resources;[37] editing and rendering software programs such as Autodesk Maya, Houdini, and Nuke, and programming languages like Python and C++ were used on the production.[38]

Music

James Newton Howard composed the score for Raya and the Last Dragon,[39] his fourth score for an animated film by Walt Disney Animation Studios after Dinosaur, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and Treasure Planet.[40][41] The score was released on February 26, 2021. Jhené Aiko wrote and performed a song titled "Lead the Way" for the end credits.[42][43]

On March 2, 2021, Disney Studios Philippines announced Filipina singer KZ Tandingan would be singing "Gabay" (Guide), Disney's first-ever Filipino-language song.[44] The track, the Filipino version of "Lead the Way", would be part of the film's soundtrack. Allie Benedicto, studio marketing head of Disney Philippines, said the song "demonstrates our commitment to work with local creative talents to tell our stories in a locally relevant manner".[45] In a press release, Tandingan said she was grateful and proud to be singing in her native language as well as singing in a Disney film. She liked its messages of trust, coming together and uniting to change the world when feeling weak and alone.[46]

Release

Theatrical and streaming

Raya and the Last Dragon was originally scheduled to be released in the United States on November 25, 2020.[47] Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the film's release was delayed to March 12, 2021.[48] On December 10, 2020, as part of Disney's Investor Day presentation, it was announced the film's theatrical release date was preponed to March 5, 2021, and would be simultaneously released on Disney+ Premier Access.[49] Raya and the Last Dragon was available for purchase through Premier Access until June 4, 2021;[50] it was available free to all subscribers in Latin America from April 23,[51] and from June 4 in other countries.[52] In theaters, Raya and the Last Dragon was accompanied by the short film Us Again.[53]

Home media

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment released Raya and the Last Dragon on Digital HD on April 2, 2021, with DVD, Blu-ray, and Ultra HD Blu-ray releases following a month later on May 18.[54] The digital release also included Us Again.[55] Bonus features bundled with its Blu-ray release include "An Introduction to Us Again", a behind-the-scenes look of the short Us Again; "Taste of Raya", a virtual Southeast Asian dining experience; "Raya: Bringing It Home", an inside look on how the animators worked at home; "Martial Artists", a lesson on the martial art forms and weapons used in the film; "We are Kumandra", the cultural influences of the film from the Southeast Asia Story Trust; outtakes from the film; facts and Easter eggs; Ripa's experience of working on the storyboard; and deleted scenes.[56][57]

Reception

Box office

As of October 10, 2021, Raya and the Last Dragon has grossed $54.7 million in the United States and Canada, and $75.6 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $130.3 million.[58][59]

In the US and Canada, the film was released alongside Chaos Walking and Boogie,[60][61] and was initially projected to gross $6-$7 million in 2,045 theaters in its opening weekend.[62] However, after making $2.5 million on its first day, due to the re-opening of New York City theaters, weekend estimates were raised to $8.3 million.[63] On its debut weekend it took $8.5 million,[64] topping the box office.[65][66][67]

Theater chains Cinemark and Harkins in the US, and Cineplex in Canada, did not initially run the film after declining Disney's rental terms[a],[68] which led to Raya and the Last Dragon failing to match the opening-weekend grosses of The Croods: A New Age and Tom & Jerry,[69] family films that were also released amid the pandemic. Raya and the Last Dragon's performance, however, improved in the following weeks, matching and eventually surpassing Tom & Jerry's box office numbers. Raya and the Last Dragon made $5.5 million in its second weekend and $5.2 million in its third, remaining atop the box office.[70][71]

Streaming

In its first three days in the week of March 1, Raya And The Last Dragon was watched for 355 million minutes and placed fourth for the week among movies.[72] The film was made available Disney+ without any additional cost on June 4, 2021, worldwide; it was the second-most viewed streaming title following after Netflix's Lucifer.[73] Raya and the Last Dragon was viewed for approximately 1.1 billion minutes from May 31 to June 6, a significant increase for the film and any streaming title, which previously had 115 million viewing minutes a week when it was only available for as a premium title for $30.[72]

Critical response

Raya and the Last Dragon received positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports 94% of 283 critics have given the film a positive review with an average rating of 7.70/10. The website's consensus reads: "Another gorgeously animated, skillfully voiced entry in the Disney canon, Raya and the Last Dragon continues the studio's increased representation while reaffirming that its classic formula is just as reliable as ever".[74] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 75 out of 100 based on 46 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[75] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale while PostTrak reported 92% of audience members gave it a positive score and that 78% said they would definitely recommend it.[63]

The female empowerment and the craftsmanship aspects were praised. IndieWire writer Kate Erbland assessed it with a "B+"; she found the film to be creative, favourably comparing it to Mulan (1998) and The Princess and the Frog (2009), and described its perspective as different.[76] The Atlantic strongly praised the world-building and detail, but thought: "subordinated the story to world building muddies the film's message".[77] From the San Francisco Chronicle, Julie Tremaine complimented the depiction of females.[78]

David Fear of Rolling Stone rated Raya and the Last Dragon three and a half stars out of five; in terms of praise, he attributed the action scenes and sequences sequences and vocal performances to "actually mak[ing] the film c[o]me out alive".[79] In RogerEbert.com, the film was regarded as promoting female empowerment but not talking down to the audience in the process.[80] Sandie Angulo Chen for Common Sense Media gave it a score of four out of five stars, particularly for its empowerment.[81] At Forbes, the film's animation, humor, and emotional moments were praised.[82]

Others were disappointed in the limited Southeast Asian representation in the cast, and found the narrative over-engineered.[83] Most of the cast, with exceptions of K. Tran, Butler, T. Tran, Wang and Harrison, are of East Asian heritage.[84][85] A. Felicia Wade of DiscussingFilm pointed this out in her review, commenting on the "disheartening" lack of accurate representation in the vocal cast, commenting it "misses the mark at its core".[86] Justin Chang of NPR admired the animation and humor, but said the plot is over-detailed.[87] The unavailability of Disney+ in the majority of Southeast Asia was also criticised.[88]

Footnotes

  1. ^ Cinemark would later reach a deal with Disney and start running the film in its tenth week of release.

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