DISNEY’S RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON PRESS JUNKET Thursday 04 March, 2021

I am excited to share the newest virtual press junket Q&A for Walt Disney Animation Studios’ epic fantasy-adventure Raya and the Last Dragon. I saw the film, it was amazing but the cast in itself was definitely star-studded and I got a chance to attend the media day Zoom junket with the cast. Check out more details below!

TRAILER

About “Raya and the Last Dragon” 

Raya and the Last Dragon” takes us on an exciting, epic journey to the fantasy world of Kumandra, where humans and dragons lived together long ago in harmony. But when an evil force threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, 500 years later, that same evil has returned and it’s up to a lone warrior, Raya, to track down the legendary last dragon to restore the fractured land and its divided people. However, along her journey, she’ll learn that it’ll take more than a dragon to save the world—it’s going to take trust and teamwork as well.

  • Kelly Marie Tran (voice of “Raya”)
  • Awkwafina (voice of “Sisu”)
  • Gemma Chan (voice of “Namaari”)
  • Daniel Dae Kim (voice of “Chief Benja”)
  • Sandra Oh (voice of “Virana”)
  • Benedict Wong (voice of “Tong”)
  • Izaac Wang (voice of “Boun”)
  • Thalia Tran (voice of “Little Noi”)
  • Don Hall (Director)
  • Carlos Lopez Estrada (Director)
  • Osnat Shurer (Producer)
  • Qui Nguyen (Writer)
  • Adele Lim (Writer)

Moderator: Jeannie Mai (The Real)

RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON PRESS JUNKET

JEANNIE: When you all pulled this team together, how did you select this cast that just brought such perfection when it came to the emotion that these characters needed?

OSNAT SHURER (Producer): I’m going to go with Disney magic [LAUGH]. I really think we just got lucky to find some of the best actors in the world, and they all said yes.

JEANNIE: How was it for you guys to see the details, not just the food but even the hairstyles? 

AWKWAFINA (voice of “Sisu”): I’m going to be honest. I saw the first clip that was put together at D-23, and I was a little confused because I was like, “Is this a live-action movie? And let me get my agent on the phone.” Because it looked so realistic, the rain, and everything. We would come in. We’d do the job. One Croc on, and that’s what we’re doing, but then you realize, all that really goes into this, and we’re recording kind of simultaneously as it’s being animated. So when I first saw the human version of Sisu, I was like, “Okay, all right, that’s me.” I’m, like, not even like to show off or anything like that. That looks like me. And so, those nuances are very, very trippy and very, very mind-blowing. 

JEANNIE: Raya and the Last Dragon has a very different and unique iteration about what dragons symbolize. What was most important to when utilizing the dragons as symbols for this film?

ADELE LIM (Writer) : It was so exciting to be able to celebrate the Eastern dragon, and we realized that this was something that most of the world was not familiar with. In Southeast Asia, they’re referred to as nagas. They’re water deities, and they bring such great auspiciousness. So it’s very different from the Western dragon that’s, like, winged and fire breathing, and something you have to destroy and take down. We also love[d] the symbology in our movie because Raya thinks she’s going to bring forth this water dragon who’s going to snap her fingers and just solve all the problems in the world. Instead, what she finds is this zany, crazy creature voiced by Awkwafina, and she’s vulnerable and needs to be protected. Also, she’s quirky and always sees the good in people.

At the heart of our movie is this beautiful friendship between Raya and Sisu, and it’s so rare that we get a major Hollywood movie with this special female friendship at the heart of it. The last thing, I would like to say about the dragon too, that humor, it wasn’t just for the sake of being funny, even though she is. She’s tremendously amazing and heartwarmingly funny, but there is a hidden wisdom underlying all of it, that Raya and hopefully the audience, ultimately comes to see. That humor comes from a place of seeing the best in people, the best in Raya, the best in the people that Raya thought were her enemies, in all these people who you think have let you down and betrayed you. The dragon is the one who can see that spark and that potential. And it inspires everybody to sort of come together and really get past it. So, we got a lot of our inspiration from that auspiciousness and that feeling of the Eastern dragon. But truly, it was our amazing visual development team, the direction, and of course, Awkwafina bringing A-game into this that really brought Sisu to life.

JEANNIE: Sisu is female. Was there ever a discussion about whether or not our main dragon for “Raya” should be a female or a male?

OSNAT: We made that decision really early on. Thinking about the dragon that brings water and life and means harmony and auspiciousness and the growth of life, it seemed natural to us to have her a female, and we were also super excited about exploring that friendship. As Adele said, you just don’t get to see enough of that. So, that was a pretty early on decision, and everybody just embraced it especially when we cast you, Awkwafina.

Question for Akwafina: I’d love to hear a little bit about your comic influences and finding Sisu’s voice.

AWKWAFINA: I was obsessed with Genie. He’s one of my favorite characters from my childhood, and I think therefore there maybe was this subconscious thing. But, I think the real beauty here is that when I was approached to play Sisu and heard what her vibe was, I was given a chance to add my own voice to it and just simultaneously build her up with the directors who were always just more than willing to explore and play. And so I think she was really born out of that process. But they’re both definitely big and blue. That’s definitely a thing. But those are really big shoes to fill. The really cool thing about Sisu is that she was part my voice too.

Question is for Izaac: Boun brought the comedy in “Raya and the Last Dragon.” So, how did you approach portraying him to make Boun so dang loveable?

IZAAC (voice of “Boun”): Oh man. Well, I’m very loveable. But, it was really fun doing him as a character because he relates to me a lot energy-wise. He feels like a very social person, if I ever met him in real life.  He’d be that kind of guy who’d go up to you on a random day like, hey, do you want these cookies that I got here? You can have them for free. Not suspicious at all. And he’s a really cool person to act too because I like doing his voice. It’s really fun. You don’t want this high voice. You don’t want this low voice. You kind of want to keep it in the middle and then you also want that business-y part of it, so you kind of got this and then you’re like, hey, I sell used cars. For only 1000 dollars you can come take it at my place. He’s a really good personality for me. I really enjoy doing characters who have a fun, energetic, comedic energy to them. And I’m really happy that I got to play Boun as myself.

Question for Sandra Oh: How was it being able to represent the Asian community in this film, and in the entertainment industry?

That’s really the most exciting thing for me because it was difficult as we made this in the COVID times. And also how animation is made, you don’t get to really meet everyone. All the directors do. I think it’s really seeing how animation has moved on. For someone like myself, growing up in the ’70s and the ’80s, I didn’t see anything. And I feel like that has been the same way, representation-wise, for a very long time. I’m actually just glad that I’m still alive to be a part of this type of screen where you see the people who have made it. So in that way, it’s very exciting. I mean, Izaac and Thalia, it’s just so great to see you and to hear what you have to say. Mostly, that’s really what it is, and to give them an opportunity to have their voices heard. Because, especially for the much younger generation, to have a space for them to be heard. It’s an exhilarating change for someone like myself to be a part of and to witness.

JEANNIE: It’s hard to see such a beautiful, celebratory film about our cultures and these communities without talking about the current times of what’s happening. I know a lot of you have been very vocal about what’s happening out there with injustices and Asian-American lives. Elderly Asians that are being targeted. I get emotional talking about it because I love the beginning of the film when Chief Benja opens up his home in hopes that all of the different lands can come together and just break bread, and just understand that we’re all fighting for the same thing, but we’re all protecting the same thing. And that we all come cut from the same cloth of principles. And today, coming off of 2020 with BLM and understanding and empathizing so much of what that’s like for that community. And now seeing that happen within our own communities. What do you feel when it comes to the timing of this film, and what do you hope audiences will take away from this? And maybe how can it-how can it influence what’s happening today in our everyday lives? 

KELLY MARIE (voice of “Raya”): There’s a moment for me specifically with Raya when, just towards the end of the movie, she gets to feel justifiably and absolutely unapologetically angry. And, for me, seeing a young woman in a movie like this just get to feel that righteous anger and then recognizing that the thing that pulls her out of it is seeing her friends and how they’re helping other people just feels so real to me. I don’t want to speak for everyone, but I can say seeing these attacks happening over and over and over consistently, you do get to that place sometimes where you feel like, “Oh, this is a very broken world and I’m feeling a lot of things right now.” And recognizing, for me, gosh, that moment felt so grounded in reality because, like you said, Adele, you can’t just say, like, “Trust, unity, like, yay, it’s going to be fine.” Acknowledging that there’s a lot of pain that happens there and recognizing that, like you said, the only way to really get through it is to look for the bits of hope in your community.  And I see so much hope on this call with all of these people that I look up to so much. Sandra and Awkwafina and Gemma…I’m listing everybody. But I think everyone on this call is doing impossible things in a world that told us we couldn’t. So, I’m grateful to be part of that, to be making a movie with all of you guys about that same thing, with these characters who are also trying to fight for a world that feels impossible and hopeless sometimes.

SANDRA OH(voice of “Virana”) : The theme of the story, which is we cannot go on as a society, the world cannot continue, without this openheartedness. And the truth Raya learns and also Namaari learns, is that you have to be willing to have your heart broken again and again and again just to keep it open. Because I think that we know hate is not finished by hate. It is only won over by love.  So, we have to each, individually, and then hopefully as a community and then large community, societally move towards that way because all of us are in the same boat. It’s a beautiful opportunity, 2020, in all its destructiveness, in all its change, if one can see it as an opportunity that somehow has also broken all our hearts open. So, what can we do with that?

QUI (Writer) : I don’t think we had any idea of how the world would become by the time this movie came out, especially when it comes to the injustices to the Asian American community right now. And, I guess I’ll just be frank. There have been some times where in the last 365 days there’s been a lot of negative imagery and words said about Asians. So it’s hard not to appreciate that this movie’s coming out and-and kind of giving a counterpoint and just telling a positive story that just celebrates Asian American skin and Asian American lives, and Asian American people. Because with any group that’s underrepresented,  when you only see stories where you’re seen as the bad guy or a thug or what have you, it starts to paint a very negative picture of you for those who don’t ever get to know you, who never get to be in the room with you. And so, I think step one is representation and really being out there, both behind and in front of the camera, with the stories we tell and then just being out there, so we can acknowledge that this world is all of us, not just any one of us. Because without that, I don’t know how we get better, so I’m- I’m appreciative and grateful that this movie’s coming out when it is.

DANIEL DAE KIM (voice of “Chief Benja”) : Can I just add something to that, also? I think we can’t undervalue the power of the fact that this is a Disney movie and the people that will be watching this movie by and large are families, parents with their children, seeing this kind of representation, and understanding what is possible. And Sandra so rightly pointed out that people like Izaac and Thalia have the space to perform in these kinds of projects for maybe the first time in history to this degree. But at the same time, I’m also thinking about all the children who will be seeing Raya for the first time and seeing an Asian strong female who kicks ass and becomes a queen. She’s on the path to becoming a ruler and she’s being groomed by her father to do that in a loving relationship. All of these things are such a positive portrayal. And as Qui was saying, it’s exposure that brings understanding and that understanding is what changes perception. What this movie does on the scale of those things cannot be underestimated.

CARLOS (Director):  I would just say that the most powerful thing that I think film can accomplish is it can give someone an opportunity to experience life through someone else’s eyes, someone who gives you a perspective that you wouldn’t have. And “Raya” does that in a way that’s very optimistic, very hopeful. And through it, we get to learn about cultures that were not our own people, that were not our own problems, and it brought us together in a beautiful way. And I think that if we’re able to bring a little bit of that light and a little bit of that empathy to people, we would. We’re just feeling so proud of this movie, this group of people that we’re working with, the time when it’s coming out. We feel like we’re adding something really valuable to a really important conversation.

BENEDICT (voice of “Tong”): It was the first time we’d actually sat and watched the film entirely, all the way through. And, obviously, the things about being trusted. My son turned around and gave me a big hug and said, “I trust you, Daddy.”  As we’ve said in the room. This is it. We need this to unite. As Gemma rightly said about our kids when they look at each other and an innocence is there. They see through color and things need to be unlearned. And as Qui has said, I think especially in America and it ripples all over the world, we are living through the remnants of this kind of hate that has permeated through the world. And it’s, again, very timely with our beautiful film showing us that love can really lead the way.

GEMMA (voice of “Namaari”): Everything that’s going on at the moment and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with hopelessness and anger, but, as has been said, where I get my hope from is that if you look for the helpers, there are helpers. There are people that have been helping and I just want to shout out all the grassroots organizations and individuals that have been doing the hard work on the ground for a long time and maybe not getting the airtime or the attention that they should. Now it feels like there is this moment to spotlight their work because they’re already doing that. They’re already building these kind of cross-community alliances that we need and I feel so grateful that they are there doing the hard work on the ground.  We’ve all got our part to play. So, us, the storytellers, we put out our film, which I hope has a message that resonates, and then we also have amazing people within our communities who are doing that work today, so I just want to shout them out.

Stay tuned for the next post on my review on Raya and The Next Dragon!

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RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON opens in theaters and on Disney+ with premier access this Friday, March 5th

About the Blogger - Kiwi the Beauty


Kiwi is the free spirited blogger and content creator of KiwiTheBeauty.com. As a digital influencer, she produces creative inspiration around beauty, lifestyle, media and travel leisure. Her life mantra is to make manifesting fun! When she’s not blogging, she is eating trendy hipster food, carrying crystals, making it rain at her local farmer's market and binge brunching. Follow her on her blog and social media at kiwithebeauty.com + @kiwithebeauty


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