Those who saw Disney’s latest animated movie may want to know what country is Raya and the Last Dragon set in.
Raya and the Last Dragon—which premiered on Friday, March 5, 2021—follows Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) a warrior princess from the fictional land of Kumandra who is tasked with saving the world from the Druun, a monster species that threatened Kumandra 500 years ago but were stopped by dragons, who sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, Raya and pet pill bug, tuk Tuk, must find the last dragon, Sisu, in order to save Kumandra from the Druun once again.
Though Raya has been described as Disney’s first Southeast Asian princess, viewers still wonder if Raya and the Last Dragon is based on a real country or was inspired by various places in Southeast Asia. Lucky for us, the screenwriter for the movie has that answer.
What country is Raya and the Last Dragon based on?
The Hollywood Reporter reported in October 2020 that Raya and the Last Dragon isn’t based on just one country in Southeast Asia but was inspired by many places in that region of the world. Producer Osnat Schurer told the magazine that the creators for the film took research trips to several countries in Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines. Schurer also revealed that the filmmakers learned martial arts and gamelan instruments, traditional instruments from Indonesia, as part of their creative process.
Screenwriter Qui Nguyen also confirmed to Polygon in March 2021 that Raya and the Last Dragon was based on multiple countries in Asia. She explained that Sisu, Kumandra’s last dragon who is voiced by Awkawafina, is based on Nāga, a water dragon in Southeast Asia.
“The difference between an Eastern or Chinese dragon versus the Nāga is that a Chinese dragon is based on luck and power,” she said. “And the Nāga, because it’s water, it’s life and hope. It’s just that slight little difference. We didn’t want a dragon that came in to empower [human protagonist] Raya to hit people more; we wanted one that would inspire her to open up and trust.”
She also explained that this was why Sisu is animated to look more like a serpent than a dragon. “We pulled it a little bit more away from the reptilian. We wanted to make sure she didn’t just look like an animal,” she said.
Nguyen also confirmed that four types of martial arts are seen in Raya and the Last Dragon: Pencack silat from Indonesia and Malaysia; Muay Thai from Thailand; Arnis from the Philippines; and traditional Indonesian wrestling. “I really wanted to make sure that the martial arts that were in the film were very distinctly Southeast Asian,” she said. “I grew up on action movies, and sci-fi movies. But if I loved Star Wars, I couldn’t go out and study being a Jedi. If I love this movie, I can go out and study these martial arts that are real. These martial arts, food, and architecture are all real.”
Screenwriter Adele Lim, who is from Malaysia, also explained how the movie tackles the different cuisines of Southeast Asia. “We have so many different people in this culture space,” she said. “It’s very easy to view those differences as things that drive us apart. But when you look at everything that’s wonderful about our culture, and particularly our street food—which is the best in the world—it’s wonderful because of all these different elements. [Food] is also our language of love and our language of community.”
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