Header via IMDB
I had the opportunity to watch Raya the weekend it first became available on Disney+ (shout out to the father because I was not paying to watch that). Overall the film was interesting, and I did enjoy it!
So, for those of you who are debating whether to give this film a chance. Keep reading to see my thoughts and opinions, as they may ultimately sway your decision to give it a watch.
(It’s now free to watch on Disney+)
Without giving away any spoilers; Raya is about a Southeast Asian princess called Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran). Raya attempts to save Kumandra from a dark force; by trying to find the last dragon Sisu (voiced by Awkwafina). Who saved them from ruin before. This light-hearted, thought-provoking family movie tackles deep issues such as unity, trust and community. Which is relevant to the world we live in today. Whilst also giving a comedic relief.
I loved this film! I enjoyed the storyline and the character Raya, a dark skin Southeast Asian woman. All in all, it’s a heroine story, very reminiscent of Moana, but there is a clear difference. Raya is about that life (I love Moana but let’s be real). Raya was born into leadership, like Moana but she inherently has that drive and determination. Whilst also being able to defend herself. She knows what she needs to do. So for that reason, I have no choice but to stan.
I also liked that there was no love interest and that it wasn’t even an aspiration for Raya (unlike the old-style Disney princesses films!) It showed the positives of being independent whilst also showing; the value of platonic relationships. Moreover, I personally loved Sisu; she came across as naïve but, she had moments of being really knowledgeable at times. The added bonus of her being hilarious contributed to the family feel of the movie.
Although the representation was there in the same way it wasn’t enough. Whilst, they had references to South Eastern cultures it was very surface level. For example, the filmmakers called on the cultures of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar, and Malaysia.
I found due to some further research, as I am not Southeast Asian. Raya is a Malaysian and Indonesian name. Furthermore, Raya wears a hat that resembles the Salakot, traditional headgear in the Philippines. Her companion and travel buddy called Tuk Tuk, which is like a pill bug animal, has the same name as a popular method of travel in the Southeast region.
Whilst these references did show representation, which is still something important. It may have been better if it was more specific. The film did not tell a story specific to one country, instead, they created Kumandra where Southeast Asian cultures are unfairly grouped together. And being that there are very distinct cultures within Southeast Asia this can be seen as counter-productive. I think Raya cannot be the only Southeast Asian princess there definitely needs to be another one. Overall, this film is a good start in terms of representation, but practice makes perfect.
Moreover, technically this isn’t a con, but I personally felt Namaari, the antagonist deserved way more smoke than she got, perhaps that is the intention of the storyline to be able to let go of previous misgivings. Personally, it could never be me.
In conclusion, if you are looking for a new and interesting family movie, I think Raya is a good choice. Because overall Raya is badass.