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Raya takes the throne of the 13th Disney princess

Posted February. 01, 2021 07:39,   

Updated February. 01, 2021 07:39


“Who will be the 13th Disney princess following Moana?”

If you are a big fan of Disney films, you may have wondered about the answer to this question. Since 1938 when Snow White laid the foundation for a strong fandom, 11 princesses have contributed to the prosperity of the Disney Kingdom. Their successor will be on the horizon with “Raya and the Last Dragon” to be premiered next month. Raya, the first Southeast Asian Disney princess, will become the 13th princess to grab the baton to cast a Disney spell over its followers. Raya navigates an adventurous journey to meet Sisu, a dragon character which holds the key to unity and peace in Island Kumandra, an imaginary place smudged with division and insecurity.

Major contributors to the upcoming Disney princess film including Director Donald Hall, producer Osnat Shurer and screenwriter Adele Lim gathered to chat about the movie in virtual settings. Director Hall led his film “Big Hero 6” to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Producer Shurer worked on "Moana,” a nominee of the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

Asked about what makes Raya different from her predecessors, Shurer answered “a sense of responsibility.”  

Recalling the argument that they had over Raya becoming a princess, she said that they expected Raya to have a sense of responsibility for bringing unity to the broken world of Kumandra. Her father, the leader of Kumandra, dies with his community left divided, which automatically makes Raya take over her father's long-cherished dreams. The producing team chose Raya as a princess to show a sense of responsibility as the daughter of the ruler.

Raya and her friends take off shoes outside the shrine just as it is proper to take off shoes outside a sacred place in Southeast Asian culture. Table setting described in the film is another representation of a Southeast Asian tradition.

The crew used the word "trust” most frequently during the interview. They agreed that it is trust that can united the divided land by betrayal and mistrust.

Disney films have continuously sought the diversity of their princesses’ nationalities and races. Jasmine from "Aladdin” is the first non-white Disney princess. Mulan is a princess of Chinese descent while Moana is Polynesian. Such tireless efforts to promote diversity imply how Disney encourages its crews to unfold their own stories.

Shurer said that every piece of Disney's stories is personal, attributing it to the internal culture where every employee is encouraged to share their life stories. When they worked on "Moana,” a staff showed an interest in Polynesian culture, garnering everyone else's support and agreement who said that it will be fun to give it a shot. As she put it, "Personal stories are the mirror into the world that we are living.”

Jae-Hee Kim jetti@donga.com