Disney Animation is bringing a new style of princess to their animated features this March with Raya and the Last Dragon. A movie that doesn't look like anything we've seen from Disney before, a lot of time and work was put into making the world of Kumandra, and the team at Disney Animation drew on many different pieces of inspiration for the world that they created. Each land in Kumandra is incredibly different, which meant that they needed to do five times as much worldbuilding as the team explained during an early press event.
"We have a world made up of five different lands," explains producer Osnat Shurer."That's like designing five movies. They have five different natural environments, materials they build with, different colors the locals wear, different shape languages that are meaningful to them. For example, in the land of Heart, they are connected to the dragon, and the dragon is connected to water, so buildings, rooms, etc. look more like a drop—they're round. Whereas in the land of Fang, they're all about power, so the structures are powerful and over-scale. Everyone of these things have been thought through by our incredible visual development and production design team members and then carried through into the film."
One of the directors, Carlos López Estrada, explained that while Kumandra is a fictional place, they drew inspiration from all over Southeast Asia. "We're making a movie that is inspired by the cultures of Southeast Asia, and we want to make sure that when people from the region see this, although Kumandra is a made-up place, they can feel the love and respect the team had for the incredible real places that inspired us. We worked hard to make sure that this world we created feels dynamic, that the inspirations affecting the story really come through and that nothing is lost. We want to pay tribute to these cultures that inspired the story and the world of Kumandra," Estrada explained.
Much like Pixar, the Disney Animation team went on trips to various Southeast Asian countries for inspiration of the world that they were building. They spoke at length about the various people they met and everything they learned on those trips. "Of the people we met, everyone had such a deep connection to their village and to their culture. They knew all the old legends and what, aesthetically, everything means, and that's layered into everything from fabrics, to how food is created, to how flowers are arranged. There's a deeper meaning relating to their culture and their village, which ties into everything that they do," said production designer Paul Felix.
There is a large river that connects all five of the lands that are shaped like a dragon, so the theme of water and how these five kingdoms used to be united before everything fell apart. However, as different as they all are, each land is reverent to the dragons that saved the world the last time around, and that is something that all of the kingdoms have in common, "For us, the main unifying elements ofKumandra have always been the water and the dragon. In our movie, we have the river that links everybody together, and throughout the movie, we see them traveling along this river to visit each of the different lands. So there's a water element that really ties it together physically. Wherever we could, we wanted to keep the water elements in the sets as much as possible. Then beyond that, there is a universal reverence for the dragon. There are motifs in the film that are dragon inspired but interpreted in each land's particular way," production designer Helen Chen explained.
Raya and the Last Dragon, with Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada directing and Paul Briggs and John Ripa co-directing, stars Kelly Marie Tran as the voice of the intrepid warrior Raya; Awkwafina as the legendary dragon, Sisu; Gemma Chan as Raya's nemesis, Namaari; Daniel Dae Kim as Raya's visionary father, Benja; Sandra Oh as Namaari's powerful mother, Virana; Benedict Wong as Tong, a formidable giant; Izaac Wang as Boun, a 10-year-old entrepreneur; Thalia Tran as the mischievous toddler Little Noi; Alan Tudyk as Tuk Tuk, Raya's best friend, and trusty steed; Lucille Soong as Dang Hu, the leader of the land of Talon; Patti Harrison as the chief of the Tail land; and Ross Butler as chief of the Spine land. It will be released in theaters and Disney+ Premiere Access on March 5th.