After five years of speculation and rumors, Disney has finally released their new princess to fans.
“Raya and the Last Dragon” (2021) has been patiently waited for as the mass media company announced late 2020 that their new princess would be set in a magical fantasy world based somewhere in Southeast Asia. Our female heroine would be a proud warrior princess and dragon guardian, showing little girls everywhere that Mulan isn’t the only sword wielder in the Disney princess universe.
Let’s not mistake Raya for Mulan though. They are from completely different parts of Asia and Raya is specifically set in the fantasy world of Kumandra, while Mulan is from the Northern Wei dynasty in China.
Kumandra is filled with mystical creatures and ancient magic that keeps the land and sea thriving with life. Dragons also live alongside humans and are deeply respected.
After years of peace under the dragon’s protection, Kumandra falls into a season of despair. Druun, a blob like plague haunts the land turning all living things to stone. The dragons try their best to defeat the plague, and it is through the courage of one dragon that the world is saved.
While this backstory is dispersed throughout the film, the audience initially gets a look at young Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) as she trains to follow in her father’s footsteps as the protector of the dragon gem. This gem is fabled to give the land of Heart (Raya’s home) prosperity. After the Druun vanishes from Kumandra, humanity turns on each other and settles in their respective parts of the continent. Each “city” is named after a part of the dragon, and while the lands are divided, Rayas father hopes they can all come together and be a united Kumandra once again.
While at a seemingly peaceful dinner, the five tribes fight for the gem protected within Heart, and it’s broken into pieces that each tribe steals for themselves. In breaking the gem, the Druun mysteriously return, bringing destruction upon a broken Kumandra once again. As mistrust, fear and anger continue to spread throughout Kumandra, Raya grows up, and makes it her goal to restore the gem and bring back the dragons to save her family.
Just like any other princess, Raya has her gang of misfit sidekicks. Tuk Tuk, Raya’s half-armadillo and half-pug companion has been with her since her youth, and the animal provides much or Raya’s transportation throughout the movie. In the film, Raya meets more friends she can trust, and they help her in fighting the Druun.
This princess film contains a similar thread that many Disney princess films have. The heroine loses loved ones and fights to save her kingdom from an evil force. The princess also learns a lot about herself through her “hero’s journey” that usually takes place within the span of a week. The princess learns to be brave, kind, compassionate and forgiving as the film progresses.
In this instance, Raya learns to trust. She has many doubts about those she used to call friends, and she has a deep sense of mistrust from the other tribes in Kumandra. She believes they are all selfish lying “binturi” (a common insult in the film).
What makes “Raya and the Last Dragon” different is that this princess gives into her anger and frustration with her enemies. The animosity she feels for the other tribes ends up getting a loved one killed, and her anger blinds her in one part of the film.
Other princesses like Elsa have also given into a negative emotion, but Disney lets the audience see failure and rage in a different light then in their previous films. It’s disturbing but very realistic, and it’s a good change from princesses like Aurora, Snow White and Cinderella who have hearts of gold.
While fans have called for more diversity in the Disney princess franchise, audiences may be pleasantly surprised when there are no hidden emotions in “Raya and the Last Dragon.” Negative emotions are on full display in this film, and while it does have a happy ending, it is not without its many trials and character sufferings.
With an audience rating of 4.6 out of 5 and a 96 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, this Disney princess film can be enjoyed by family members old and young.
“Raya and the Last Dragon” is available for premier access on Disney Plus. Viewers will need to pay a one-time fee of $30 for initial access until June 4, when the movie is free on the streaming platform. Locally in Reno, Nevada, movie theaters are showing the new Disney princess film on varying dates throughout the next few months.
Emilie Rodriguez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @emilieemeree.