Sharply observed and knowingly deployed cultural details are what transform the broad and abstract concept of onscreen representation into vivid, living stories with the facility to succeed in into us and make us feel that our experiences aren’t simply valid and worthy, but that they need the potential to inspire others who might not share those experiences.
But Disney, at the top of the day, is gonna Disney. this is often a corporation with an extended history of throwing different cultures into its narrative Cuisinart, whether Maori and Polynesian (Moana) or Swedish, Norse, Danish and Icelandic (Frozen) or … basically, all of Europe (Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and therefore the Beast, Tangled).
The crucial difference, of course, being that European and Scandanavian cultural mashups are thick on the bottom , while depictions of Southeast Asian culture(s) in American media remain few and much between.
So it’s dispiriting, if not exactly surprising, to ascertain some less-than-enthusiastic reactions from critics of Southeast Asian descent, starting from the film’s broad, salad-bar approach to the Iroquois League it depicts (a little bit of Muay Thai here, a Vietnamese floating market there, some Indonesian architecture there, etc.) to the very fact that much of its main voice cast consists of East Asian actors.
Disney must recover at this, and people knowing, coming-from-inside-the-house critiques offer them a solid, actionable path forward.
Here’s something that Raya and therefore the Last Dragon gets clearly and unambiguously right, however: the Disney Princess as flawed hero.
Pop quiz, hotshot: What was Cinderella’s defining character trait? Belle’s? Ariel’s? Rapunzel’s?
Their “I want quite this” yearning and determination, you say? Wrong. That’s a opening song, a press release of principles, not a personality.