• Leonor Di Felice

Raya and the Last Dragon: an Incredible Story of Trust and Hope

Updated: Apr 2

All Disney fans raise a hand! A new amazing animation movie landed on Disney+ last month, and we are so excited to talk about it!

Hello explorers! Welcome to a new episode of the Acting Explorers Club, your travel guide behind the scene of movies and TV series we all love.

Today's episode is very special for different reasons. We chose to talk about Raya and the Last Dragon, a computer-animated fantasy adventure set in Kumandra, a Southeast Asia-inspired land.

Being an actor means being an empath, understanding others' feelings, and connecting with them. This incredible skill is what helps the greatest actors during their best performances! Why is it so? Well, in real life, we continuously connect with the people around us during conversations and also when we simply are next to each other. Our job onset is to recreate that natural flow of energies, that genuine interest for the people interacting with us and what they have to say.

All of us had some experience with colleagues on set that would not get interested in what we were saying and would not care about our performance. Those types of actors are so focused on what they are doing that they don't see anything else outside themselves. How do you think their performance is going to be? Not so good, trust this author.

This is why it is so important to focus on people around you other than yourself. Training your empathy will make you a great actor and will help you understand shades inside the script that you would not catch otherwise. More importantly, it will also make you a better human being!

For this reason, today, we decided to support a movie with Asian culture as a central theme. We are all living in scary times, but this period can become even more horrible for some people because of the anti-Asian racism that has spread all over the country. We need to stand up against this brutality and be examples of love and tolerance for the people around us.

But now, let's dive into the magical world of Kumandra!

Spoiler-free plot

Kumandra was once a country where humans and dragons lived happily. The land was rich, and peace reigned. But one day, from men's evil, terrible creatures were born: the Druun. These spirits started wandering around Kumandra, turning all living beings into stone statues. The world as people knew it was about to end: the whole society was destroyed by panic and fear.

When the situation reached a critical level, and the Druun almost won against all other beings, something unexpected happened. Five brave dragons decided to unify their energies and create an orb that had the power to ward off the evil monsters.

Their sacrifice worked, but they all got petrified except the youngest of them, Sisu. The legend says that she is still sleeping somewhere, but nobody knows if she actually survived that moment.

Thanks to their act of altruism, the Druun disappeared, but a power struggle for the orb divided the kingdom into tribes. Because Kumandra was developed around a river that resembles a dragon, tribes divide as follows: Fang, Heart, Spine, Talon and Tail. The orb remained in Heart, where it was created, for 500 years.

At this point is when we meet Raya, the main character of the movie. Her father, Chief Benja, has been training her to protect the orb for years. His plan is to organize a party to reunite with all the other tribes and restore the original peace. His intentions are pure, but all the other tribes are very determined to steal the precious object and will not stop in front of anything.

They accept the invitation from Chief Benja and, after a discussion, they all agree on enjoying their time together. Raya befriends the daughter of the chief Virana of the Fang tribe, Namaari. They find to have so many things in common and, as an act of friendship, Namaari gives her a dragon pendant as a gift. Raya shows her friend a very special place to reciprocate the kindness: the orb's secret location.

At this point, Namaari reveals that she is only there to steal the orb and betrays Raya, calling all her army.

A great fight explodes between all the tribes, and while trying to take the precious object, they break it into 5 pieces. This terrible accident causes the Druun to come back and the society to fall into desperation again.

This is where the adventure begins: in the following years, Raya will try to find Sisu, the last dragon, and save the world from the horrible plague that affects it.

Raya and The Last Dragon: Cast

Kelly Marie Tran is the leading actress giving her voice to Raya. We already met her in Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019), where she interpreted Rose Tico.

Voice acting can be very challenging when approached for the first time! Acting students often go through many stages to perfect their skills. The whole process usually embraces voice, body and emotions study, but we are used to perceiving acting as a single tool. This is why voice acting can be challenging: the instrument you have available is not your whole persona, but only your voice! And you need to be able to express everything through it.

About this topic, this is what Kelly said about her personal experience with voice acting and the difficulties that came with it in Raya and The Last Dragon:

"The challenges had to do a lot with, you know, having to do it totally in isolation. I had to figure out how to make a makeshift voiceover booth at home. Then the challenges of having your internet cut out or having construction happening down the street while you're trying to record audio for this movie. But the really cool things about it totally trump all of that. The experience of being involved with something that is so much bigger than me, and also that is made by so many of the people that constructed my childhood. I grew up as such a Disney animated movie fan, and so to be part of this is a very big deal for me. So I'm very excited."

A further challenge was the inability to interact with other actors, as she had so many scenes with Awkwafina, Sisu's actress, and could not meet her during the time they were recording. How lucky we are when we have fellows actors to help us get into the character!

But how did Awkwafina deal with her own character? The most interesting part is that Sisu's appearance was made to resemble her. This is what she said about it:

"It was very trippy because there are capture cameras, but you don't really know how they're going to work it in. Then the teeth — and I was like, 'Yeah, I should probably look into Invisalign, shouldn't I?' It's so cool, it's the coolest feeling ever."

What we loved about Raya and The Last Dragon

Raya and The Last Dragon is a movie based on the ideals of hope and trust in other people. It is hard to trust the people around us, but even harder to trust our enemies and give them a chance to change their narrative. This is the lesson that Raya teaches us. Offering an opportunity to those who failed us is the greatest act of courage.

Watching the terrible developments in Kumandra, it is impossible not to see a resemblance with the pandemic situation we are living in globally. We are divided, and a great evil is threatening all of us. But in both cases, the way we have to get through this situation is being strong together, believing that a change is possible and move toward our shared goal as a community. This will not be possible if we do not stand together, overcoming feelings like hate and grudge.

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