If you hear the young ones in your life coming out with bintari and dep la, it’s useful to know they’re not new swear words. These are, in fact, a couple of the invented words from the newest Disney blockbuster, Raya and the Last Dragon.
Originally scheduled to hit cinemas back in November 2020, this computer-generated animation had its release pushed back to March due to the pandemic. With no certainty over when most cinemas in the world will reopen, it’s been released on Disney Plus in the UK for £19.99.
I remember when I first saw Toy Story – the original fully computer-made cartoon – as a kid and being in awe at the skills. Animation has advanced in leaps; Raya is so life-like it was almost distracting. From the individual grey hairs in beards to the fur of the dragons, it’s hard to believe some shots aren’t real.
I wasn’t too distracted though, which is good because the film is visually stunning. I’ve spent a long time living and travelling in Southeast Asia and I felt like I was watching places I already knew.
There’ll be no spoilers here, but the story goes that hundreds of years ago, mythical Kamudra was the land of dragons, invaded by an evil force called the Druun. Dragon magic repelled them but left the land is disarray and split into five factions.
Fighting over the last piece of dragon magic led to the return of the Druun and Raya, once a protector of the dragon magic, has to journey through the lands to find a way to restore Kamudra to its former glory.
The story is full of magic and action, with unlikely characters filled with the charm and humour you’d expect from a Disney epic. Akwafina as the voice of Sisu the dragon is an absolute charm. Her turn in Crazy Rich Asians was a blast as she cements her comedy genius here.
Raya, Sisu, and her unlikely band of adventurers travel across almost recognisable landscapes. Stilt houses from Cambodia, Rice terraces from Vietnam, and bamboo forests from Japan act as the backdrop to this romp through a mystery-filled map.
I was very impressed with the fusion of cultures – dep la reminds me of đẹp meaning beautiful in Vietnamese and la which is a common accent to a Malay sentence – but the themes were what I really loved. Heartwarmingly Disney all the way.
Raya has to fight the Druun because she misplaces her trust in someone, the consequences haunting her for years. She’s forced to confront her lack of trust and fear of relying on anyone else to be able to save Kamudra and bring her father and the dragons back. The relationships she forms will bring tears to even the most stoic of grandparents.
It may seem a tad pricey on Disney Plus, but it’s the type of film the grandkids, nieces, and nephews will want to watch again and again (once lockdown allows), and you might even sneak a second watch yourself when you want to be reminded of the good in people.