Raya and the Last Dragon – Marketing Recap

How Disney is selling its latest animated feature with an all-star cast.

Raya and the Last Dragon is, like many of Disney’s animated films, about a character defying the odds to embrace and fulfill her destiny. In this case, the people of Kumandra have long ago splintered into various tribes and lost most of what they once shared. When an ancient threat emerges, it’s up to Raya (Kelly Marie Tran), a skilled warrior, to seek out the dragons that helped defend them centuries ago. When she finds the only remaining dragon Sisu (Awkwafina), she has to bring the young dragon back, facing different threats along the way.

Originally scheduled for release last November, this week the movie hits both theaters and Disney+ under the same “Premier Access” tier Disney previously used for Mulan. It arrives with an impressive 96% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has received a campaign that’s emphasized the action and adventure in the story.

The Posters

Disney used the social media app Weibo to release a special poster designed in the style of Chinese tapestries to celebrate Lunar New Year in 2020.

The first real poster for the film (by marketing agency Legion Creative Group) came out in October of last year and shows Raya, her face partially obscured by her hat but holding a substantial sword. A motion version of that poster came out a short while later.

Raya is seen more fully on the second poster, also from October. The camera here pulls back to show her standing defiantly in a tropic setting, the cloudy outline of a dragon visible in the background.

The next poster (by marketing agency Ten30 Studios) came out in December. Here Raya and Sisu are seen running side by side, seemingly into battle or toward some other form of danger or adventure. Both have a fun, excited look on their face that communicates their lack of fear toward whatever they’re facing.

In February what seems to be the theatrical poster came out, showing Raya at the center of all the action, with the supporting characters and some of the story’s locations placed around her. The design is wonderful, using elements that seem to be pulled from traditional Asian artwork to display everything the audience may need to know about the movie.

Additional posters continued to come out after that, including one that simplifies the design to show Raya, Sisu and others ready for a fight, one that shows them enjoying a feast together and one that shows the kind of food the characters enjoy, part of a late-campaign push focusing on food and snacks.

The Trailers

The first trailer (14.1m views on YoutTube) was finally released in mid-October. In an extended sequence we see how Raya is a sort of spy/defender, sworn to defend an important artifact. The splintering of the tribes of the world has thrown the world into chaos, prompting her to embark on a mission that could once again unite them and restore peace. The story here seems secondary, though, to simply showing how powerful Raya is.

In late January the next trailer (12m views on YouTube) came out, starting out with Raya meeting – and ultimately recruiting – a “con baby.” After that she’s on a quest to find the last dragon in order to restore peace among her home’s divided people. She’s successful in the first part but has to then contend with others who are on the same mission for their own purposes, encountering danger and adventure along the way. It presents a much more comprehensive overview of the story along with all the action and humor the movie has to offer.

Online and Social

Visitors to the movie’s official website will find the basic marketing information like trailers and a synopsis along with a downloadable movie-themed activity packet as well as links to buy tickets or find out more about Disney+ Premier Access. There were also stand-alone social media profiles for the film.

Advertising and Promotions

The movie was announced by Disney at the 2019 D23 Fan Expo, when the cast was brought out to share the story and show off the first early footage as a way to get fans excited.

A first look still from the film was released in August 2020 at the same time as the news Tran was joining the cast.

In December Disney announced the movie would not go to theaters but would instead debut on Disney+ with the same Premier Access paid tier previously used for Mulan.

After the second trailer came out Disney released a video showing Tran and Awkwafina reacting to it.

A Super Bowl spot aired in early February that takes a slightly more serious take on the story than was seen in the recent full trailer, but still looks very entertaining, with plenty of humor and adventure for fans. Additional spots came out later that took the same action/humor tone.

Disney Parks shared an exclusive clip of Raya and Sisu enlisting some help in their journey home.

In late February Disney released a featurette focused on the casting of the voice roles. There was also a lyric video for “Lead The Way” by Jhené Aiko.

A condensed version of Tran’s video diaries from the studio and other production locations was shared along with a brief tutorial on how to draw Tuk Tuk, one of Raya’s adorable sidekicks.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • Fitness company Obe, which offered movie-inspired workout classes as well as a discussion of some of the film’s more athletic action sequences.
  • Omson, which created special Southeast Asian sampler packages of prepared spices, offered in movie-branded packaging.
  • Raddish Kids, which created movie-inspired recipes for its meal delivery service.
  • Sanzo, which offered a 20% off coupon for those wanting to try its Asian-inspired flavored drinks.
  • McDonald’s, which put movie toys in its Happy Meal packages.
  • Kellogg’s, but details on their promotion were unavailable.

Media and Press

The filmmakers, including director Don Hall, revealed Tran’s casting in the lead role and discussed the importance of this being the first Disney animated film to be inspired by Southeast Asian legends and culture.

Tran appeared on “Good Morning, America” in October to debut the trailer and talk about the film.

Tran spoke during a group interview about the unjustified pressure she’s being made to feel about playing the first Southeast Asian Disney Princess.

Closer to release Tran appeared on “Kimmel” to talk about being a crazy Disney fan and now being in a (non-Star Wars) Disney movie. Awkwafina then appeared on “The Tonight Show.”

There were a few more interviews like this with Tran where she shared her excitement at being part of such a monumental production. She also got a cover story in THR about how this film marks a big moment for her, coming after the toxic backlash she received as a result of her Star Wars role.

Producer Osnat Shurer and others were quoted in a story about how the filmmakers found inspiration in the art and culture of Southeast Asia and how that’s represented in the movie.

Overall

In addition to the campaign’s commitment to communicating the Southeast Asian influence felt by the filmmakers, which is admirable, the main thing that comes through here is the redemption of Tran. Her treatment in the wake of The Last Jedi in particular was horrendous, and she’s made no bones about how difficult that period was for her to live through. So to see her standing tall here and taking part in a project that allowed her to pull from her own heritage and background is admirable and inspiring in and of itself.

Aside from that, Disney is making a concerted effort here to sell the movie as a funny, adventure-filled good time for audiences. There’s nothing too dark here, as even the threats faced by the protagonists don’t seem overwhelming or scary, a likely attempt to position the movie as a safe choice for younger viewers at home.

What will be interesting to see is how the movie fares as part of the Disney+ Premier Access experiment. Mulan was more or less a known quantity given it was a remake of a previously popular film. But this is an original property, so how willing people are to shell out the additional fee to watch it remains to be seen.

Breaking News In Yuba County – Marketing Recap

How MGM has sold a dark comedy.

From writer Amanda Idoko and director Tate Taylor comes this week’s comedy Breaking News In Yuba County. Allison Janney stars as Sue Buttons, a suburban housewife who becomes something of a local celebrity after her husband Karl (Matthew Modine) goes “missing” and she embarks on a search to find him. Entranced by her newfound fame, Buttons keeps the charade going through a series of increasingly desperate actions that bring her into contact with local crime figures, persistent police officers and other colorful characters.

The movie also stars Mila Kunis, Wanda Sykes, Awkwafina, Regina Hall and others.

The Posters

You definitely get a sense of the movie’s sense of humor on the poster (by marketing agency Art Machine), released just a couple weeks ago. That comes through not only in the wild artistic design of the primary images, which place the supporting cast around a wide-eyed Sue while offering glimpses of the locations of the story’s action, but also in the copy reading “Sue Buttons has one killer story.”

The Trailers

The trailer (1.2 million views on YouTube), also released in mid-January, follows the rough flow of the story itself, from Sue’s panic over what to do about her dead husband through the notoriety she gains when it seems like he’s been kidnapped and into how it all starts to fall apart when it becomes clear she made much of it up. Along the way we meet some of the unusual local personalities that get involved in some manner and really see the dark sense of humor the film is selling, one conveyed well by the cast, especially Janney.

Online and Social

There is a website listed at the end of the trailer, but repeated attempts to load it were unsuccessful, so it’s not clear what’s on the site. MGM did give the movie some support on its social channels, including running regular little “daily affirmations” featuring brief clips from the film.

Advertising and Promotions

MGM, through its relaunched American International Pictures, acquired the project in October of last year, announcing a January release date at that time.

Some shorter versions of the trailer were run as pre-roll on YouTube, but that’s all the paid advertising I’m aware of.

Media and Press

Janney stopped by “Kimmel” recently to talk about the movie and lots more.

That is, surprisingly, about the end of the press efforts.

Overall

A good poster and strong trailer make me want to like this campaign a lot more than I actually do. The disconnect is caused in large part by the lackluster effort elsewhere, including the site that won’t load, the mostly non-existent press push and so on. Such a showcase for Janney in particular needs more support, not provided here.

It’s such a small campaign, it actually makes me wonder if the theatrical-only release plan for the film caused MGM to scale back the marketing because what’s the point of going big when your maximum box-office take is around $5 million?

Picking Up The Spare

Bridget Everett appeared on “The Tonight Show” to promote the film.

The Farewell – Marketing Recap

the farewell posterFamily drama is at the heart of the story in the new movie The Farewell. Akwafina stars as Billi, a young woman who’s part of a big Chinese family. She’s independent and headstrong and doesn’t always agree with the decisions the rest of her family make.

That becomes an issue when she finds out her grandmother, who still lives in China, is sick and dying. But Nai Nai isn’t aware her time is short and the rest of the family wants to keep it that way. Billi disagrees with this but goes along while traveling across the Pacific to spend a bit more time with her.

The Posters

The whole family is posed for a portrait on the first poster, everyone looking a bit down and depressed except for Nai Nai who still looks upbeat and as if she’s just happy to be surrounded by everyone. Copy at the top, echoed in the trailer, promises audiences the movie is “Based on a true lie.”

The Trailers

Billi finds out her grandmother is dying just as the trailer, released in early May, opens. Her parents don’t want her to find out, but Billi wants to travel to China to see the old woman before she passes under the pretext of simply visiting family. She reluctantly goes along with keeping the secret, eventually coming to understand that revealing the truth would do more harm than good in a society that values the collective whole not the individual.

Online and Social

The page A24 has for the movie on its site has minimal information, including the trailer, poster and a synopsis. There are also links to the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Nothing I’ve seen, but I’d be willing to bet there have been at least some online ads run.

Media and Publicity

The movie’s premiere at Sundance had much of the cast and crew in attendance, allowing Awkwafina a chance to talk about the generic version of the story the studio seemed to prefer as well as how she never expected to be offered a dramatic role like this. A24 quickly stepped in to purchase distribution rights.

An interview with Wang allowed her to talk about the process of making the movie from start to finish. Awkwafina also addressed her expanding into drama from the comedy she’s usually known for.

Director Lulu Wang was given the Sundance Institute’s 2019 Vanguard Award at the film’s Los Angeles premiere event.

While walking the red carpet at the premiere, Awkwafina spoke about how she hopes the movie continues breaking down cultural barriers by focusing more on what’s universal for everyone instead of what’s different.

How this movie continues the momentum started by Crazy Rich Asians was the subject of this feature, including how those involved are committed to adding more Asian American stories to Hollywood’s output. Also covered was the journey the story took from Wang’s own life to the big screen and how she and others worked to make sure it remained authentic. She also spoke about the way she wanted to go against the grain of Hollywood’s standard operating procedure. That interview also included how she opted to take a theatrical release deal even though a streaming service offered her more money.

Zhao Shuzhen, who plays Nai Nai, got profiles like this in the immediate lead up to release.

In keeping with the movie’s story, A24 hosted a fake Chinese wedding outside the New York theater that hosted the premiere there.

The evolution of Awkwafina into a dramatic actress was covered by many stories similar to this one that allowed her to talk about how intimidated she was by the prospect.

Overall

There’s so much here that’s charming and funny. The focus on Awkwafina is understandable but it’s how the publicity campaign also includes hefty helpings of Wang that really makes a difference to me. It’s one thing to talk about how inclusiveness is improving in front of the camera, but having that happen behind the scenes as well is just as much a game changer, if not more so.

That campaign is selling a story that’s very specific but also largely universal, that we sometimes do things in someone’s best interest that may seem a bit morally questionable. It might be a bit small scale, which makes some amount of sense, but it’s alright and I hope there will be more of it in the coming weeks as the movie expands beyond its limited initial release.

Picking Up the Spare

There have been more interviews with Wang on the concept of being an American, the trick in telling stories about a lie and how she tried to keep the tone very human and relatable. 

Awkwafina also kept going, appearing on “The Late Show” and being the subject of an interview with her real life grandmother. She also talked about her drive to be part of this movie. 

Another round of interviews with Wang like this and this hit weeks after the movie was released to continue generating conversations around the movie.