Mexican American filmmaker Carlos López Estrada never thought his critically acclaimed and socially conscious independent film Blindspotting, which debuted at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, would lead him to Disney Animation Studios. But he’s glad it did.
As a co-director on Disney’s newest animated feature Raya and the Last Dragon, López Estrada said he is “pinching himself every day” to remind him that it isn’t a dream.
“I’ve loved Disney for a long, long time, but if you asked me three years ago where I would be now, this is probably the last place I could have imagined,” López Estrada told Remezcla during an interview earlier this week. “I’m happy to be here, but it was definitely unexpected.”
Raya and the Last Dragon tells the story of Raya (Kelly Marie Tran), a brave warrior princess who sets off on a journey to restore peace to her land by searching for the last surviving dragon known to mankind.
After the success of Blindspotting, López Estrada, who was born in Mexico City, was recruited by Disney to be a part of its “Story Trust,” a group of directors and writers, who collaborate on each other’s projects. As a member of the group, López Estrada was credited as part of the studio’s creative leadership for Frozen II in 2019.
“We all watch each other’s cuts and give each other notes and help shape the story,” he said.
As a Latino director working on a major animation project, López Estrada knows that he is in an incredibly unique place. He understands the responsibility he has to show to everyone that Latinos are creative, talented and capable storytellers.
“There aren’t a lot of us in these positions in animation or in Hollywood in general,” he said. “It’s inspiring to see that people are looking at our community to bring in our voices and our stories. I’m trying to do what I can to extend the same kind of opportunity that I have to other people in our community to share their perspective.”
López Estrada looks forward to telling more Latino stories at Disney. He’s credited as part of the creative leadership team for its upcoming film Encanto, which is set in Colombia. Working on a film like Raya and the Last Dragon and learning more about the Asian culture, however, was “eye-opening” for him.
“These films allow you to immerse yourself in a world that is unlike yours,” he said. “I’ve gotten to travel to Southeast Asia, but didn’t really understand the culture as much as I do now because we had so many people collaborating with us. Hopefully, people who watch will get a similar experience and get to see a world that is rich and different.”
Raya and the Last Dragon is currently playing at theaters and is available for purchase on Disney+ through its Premiere Access platform.