arden’s review published on Letterboxd:
At the heart of Raya and the Last Dragon lies the collectivistic and holistic virtues that we South East Asians share. The film sends us fast into Kumandra, a fantasy amalgamation of South East Asia: lush and vivid with color, sprawling with the same vibrance that our countries have. It's a re-imagined world, not representative of any single country. Which many found a problem initially, but it does not take away from enjoying easter eggs of every culture here and there. Maybe it's the Disney-fication of it all that sets me off, but the idea that the writers created this world with the intent of giving all of us brown-skinned kids someone to look up to, to identify with. Which is something that we have wanted for so long. Then again, what actual validation do we get from a big budget Western studio? Why is that validation so important to us?
Raya is not Filipino, Thai, Malaysian, Singaporean, Indonesian, nor Vietnamese and many more. It is its own world, taken from imagery of our own. However, it's a Disney film: formulaic, made to be entertaining. It's still beautiful and a well-crafted film by a crew of ample Asian representation, but I can't help but feel like it lacks a distinct tone. A step in the right direction, but not quite there yet. The only takeaway I have from this film is that in the next few weeks, so many young brown-skinned girls and boys are going to be watching Raya excitedly and say that they see themselves in a film, without the compromise of the color of their skin.