Movie review: Raya And The Last Dragon
It is hard to believe that it has taken the Mouse House more than 20 years after Mulan to give us her South-east Asian sister, Raya, the first of her kind to join the Disney Princess canon.
But better late than never.
The new animated fantasy adventure Raya And The Last Dragon, which simultaneously opens in cinemas here and premieres on Disney+ on March 5, is a proud display of peak girl power - and the power of authentic representation.
The titular heroine (Kelly Marie Tran) is a warrior princess from Kumandra, a gorgeously rendered world inspired by and celebrating the cultures and people of Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
She resurrects mystical water dragon Sisu (Awkwafina) to assist in undoing a plague that has rendered her ruler father (Daniel Dae Kim) and their kingdom to stone, as well as heal its divided people from ancient wounds.
During her quest, she bonds with a ragtag group of companions - thieving toddler Con-Baby will be an instant hit - and learns that it also takes forgiveness, trust and unity to save their broken world.
Directed by Don Hall (Big Hero 6, Moana) and Carlos Lopez Estrada and written by Crazy Rich Asians scribe Adele Lim and playwright Qui Nguyen, the film is a lot of fun, yet its rich and heart-warming themes go pretty deep for a "kiddie flick".
Tran of Star Wars fame is perfectly cast, as her vocal stylings inject Raya with loads of personality and emotion.
With her distinctive raspy voice, you can depend on Awkwafina to bring the comic relief.
Her Sisu is often goofy, insecure, empathetic and far from ferocious, and whenever it shapeshifts into human form, the resemblance to the actual actress is uncanny.
Their buddy comedy dynamic and opposing points of view lay the foundation for the film, strengthened by the inclusion of another strong female lead - Gemma Chan's Namaari, Raya's frenemy and complex antagonist.
On top of incorporating beautiful visuals and South-east Asian fighting styles such as silat and muay thai, it even uses tom yum soup to convey an important lesson.
With the right amount of spicy, sweet and sour, Raya And The Last Dragon is a feast for the eyes, mind and soul.
FILM: Raya And The Last Dragon
STARRING: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim
WRITER-DIRECTORS: Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada
THE SKINNY: Lone warrior Raya (Tran) must track down the legendary last dragon Sisu (Awkwafina) to stop an evil force that has returned after 500 years to once again threaten her home world Kumandra.