Disney's latest film, Raya and the Last Dragon debuted on Friday giving fans the studio's first animated feature centered around Southeast Asian culture and its first Southeast Asian Disney princess in Raya (Kelly Marie Tran). But the film doesn't just offer viewers a lush and immersive culturally-rich world and exciting action as Raya seeks out the titular Last Dragon in order to save her world, Kumandra. The film also offers viewers an authentic and realistic representation of female friendships, both between Raya and the dragon Sisu (Awkwafina), but Raya and rival Namaari (Gemma Chan). According to the film's writer Adele Lim, it is both important and exciting to incorporate those relationships into the film -- in part because there's nothing else quite like it in Hollywood.
"Those were very early conversations Osnat [Shurer] and I would have in the story room," Lim told ComicBook.com. "Even with all the filmmakers, there was always the idea of the strong protagonist with Sisu the female dragon. And when we looked around for comps, we couldn't really find any major Hollywood movie with a female friendship at its core and at its heart. And so, we were so excited by being able to really lean into that and celebrate that. And the other side of it was Raya's relationship with Namaari."
Lim continued, "Namaari started out as much more of a straightforward villain, but when we were challenged to make her character deeper and have Namaari and Raya's relationship speak to the larger story we were trying to tell, that's when we gave them this backstory and it spoke to another side of complex female relationships."
In the film, Raya and Namaari have a childhood history that prompts the pair to become enemies as adults, but their relationship is far from one note. It evolves over the course of the film.
"Someone you have deep history with, that you know. They were both raised to be leaders and both of them are so similar in that everything they do comes from a fierce dedication of love for their family, for their people, wanting to protect the land around them," Lim said. "Raya and Namaari view each other as enemies as grownups, but they're also fascinated and drawn to each other. So, these are dynamics that we don't really see or celebrate in Hollywood movies and the opportunity for all of us to lean into them was really special."
But while the authentic portrayal of female friendship was important, Lim also said that what was equally as important is that the story doesn't make sex and gender an issue.
"And also, this is something also that Osnat brings up too which is with our characters, in our l and of Kumandra, their sex, and their gender is never, ever viewed as a drawback or an obstacle," Lim said. "We get to celebrate these female characters just being on a journey to save their world and it is not about being a woman. They are women, but they are not purely defined by that and they are not held back by that."
Raya and the Last Dragon is in theaters (where available) now as well as streaming on Disney+ with Premier Access.