How Disney's 'Raya and the Last Dragon' Found Inspiration From Southeast Asia

Raya and the Last Dragon
Courtesy of Walt Disney

Walt Disney Animation Studios' fantasy Raya and the Last Dragon found inspiration from Southeast Asia, a process that began with research trips to Laos, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore and Malaysia.

"One of the things that moved [directors Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada] the most and made the team really want to ground the inspiration of the film in Southeast Asia was the sense of community that they encountered, the sense of 'we,' the importance of 'we' over 'I,' " explains producer Osnat Shurer. "It was so deep and so complete that they came back and we started diving into also the rest of the beauty, the textures, the fabrics, the food. That became the grounding principle, the inspiration behind this fantasy world of Kumandra."

This world forms the shape of a dragon and includes five lands: Heart (Raya's home), Fang, Spine, Talon and Tail, each of which has a distinct look. Costume research involved studying breathable draping styles, such as the sabai top and sampot pant. The filmmakers also formed what was dubbed the Southeast Asia Story Trust — a team of consultants led by Lao visual anthropologist Steve Arounsack.

This story first appeared in the March 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.