Return to Article Details Sisu(datu), the Funny Female Dragon of the Disney Universe

In this paper, I intend to analyze the female dragon character Sisu of Raya and the Last Dragon (2021) from the perspective of humor. The point I wish to make is that she is an outstanding character within the Disney oeuvre on account of being a positive representation of the dragon in a Western animated film. However, it has to be added that she is not entirely the first in this respect; yet as a female dragon she is. Additionally, she is part of a narrative that culturally belongs to Asia, where dragons are endowed with positive associations, so the cultural setting is not entirely Western. At the same time, she is also remarkable as a female Disney character, who initiates humor with great success, makes wisecracks, and provides comic criticism while not being primarily the butt of the jokes and not being funny unintentionally. She is not just a goofy-silly sidekick used for comic relief but a complex character as if being the proverbial philosopher’s stone that can solve all of the problems emerging in the story. Moreover, Sisu is also a unique representative of cultural diplomacy, a bridge-character between the West and the East incorporating elements of both poles especially during the high tension between the USA and China during the Covid-19 pandemic, while the Druun, the common enemy that can be defeated only through cooperation and trust seems evidently the embodiment of this pandemic.

First, I would like to address the question of the positive dragon imagery itself. Within Western cultures, dragons are traditionally and most typically the representatives and embodiment of evil forces, especially in pre-Christian Europe; later this symbolism was influenced by Christianity and Judaism and dragons became typically evil and associated with the Devil constituting threats, and who were always defeated and killed off (Eason 40-44, Blust 520, Hall 20-21). As a positive representation of a dragon within a Western animated film, Sisu is extraordinary in this context; however, she is not entirely new as another similar character, Mushu from Mulan (1998), has been with us for over two decades now, becoming an iconic comic sidekick voiced by Eddie Murphy. In addition, the movie How to Train Your Dragon (2010) and its sequels also contributed to a representational change and to a shift in the representation of dragons, especially in current visual culture regarding animations. Yet Sisu is new as being a complex figure because she has both positive and negative characteristics; she is not just a one-sided, simplistic presence in the story as she also develops and learns through the events, while she also makes a difference in the lives of others, making them change. For example, she makes some mistakes (like eating too hot food in spite of being warned or ‘buying’ goods on credit without the intention of paying for them); she is sometimes naïve (she repeatedly trusts people she should not in spite of being warned) and does not have much confidence (she thinks that she is the weakest link in the “study group” with her siblings) and even some jokes are at her expense (when she is clumsy or too naive). Nevertheless, Sisu is clever, compassionate, understanding, enthusiastic (she can be counted upon whenever a problem arises to be solved) and is a real team player while also having important skills that help the narrative such as swimming (which also turns into a joke several times). Above all, Sisu is a divine being with magical abilities, who fulfills her role as the key to the solution even if not the way viewers expect. The paradoxical thing is that Sisu is female, which makes her a first among the Disney dragon characters, because dragons are generally conceived of as males (and usually seducing maidens or standing as dangerous fighters, who have to be defeated to get a treasure or regain a princess, see Blust 529, 532). Sisu, as a female dragon, does not act in gender-specific way and definitely does not meet gendered expectations questioning thus her stereotyped feminine side; moreover, she does not embody any heteronormative behavioral patterns expected of women. For instance, she does not have a voluptuous body or feminine clothes or dresses, neither makeup or elaborate hairstyle; she does not try to reach anything with feminine charm or by being seductive, and she is never interested in anybody from the opposite sex for romantic purposes. Sisu’s Awkwafina voice is so unique and singular that it is unmistakable with its misty-velvety-deep hue borrowing the character a special aura. In spite of this voice as well as Awkwafina’s features that mark Sisu as a female, this dragon appears androgynous especially when she is colored blue; she also incorporates the magical abilities of both her brothers and her sisters when touching various parts of the Dragon Gem thus becoming truly androgynous. Blust claims that androgyny in the figure of the dragon is also part of the Eastern tradition, but it is present in other parts of the world as well (528-529).

Now, I would like to overview the representational contrasts between the West and the East concerning dragons and point out how Sisu complies or not with the traditions based on the definitions about dragons provided by Cassandra Eason, Robert Blust, and James Hall. It is evident that the story takes place in Asia, and it has the closest associations with China, even if it was declared by the creators that Kumadra is a fictional place that involves various parts of the Far East, mostly South-East Asian territories and peoples (imdb). Yet, the animated film is still an American, hence a Western take on an Asian story. Despite this, Sisu’s representation is much rather connected to the Eastern tradition, as she is connected to the rainbow, water, rain, sea as an originator/preserver of life (Blust 522-528 and Hall 20 both claim that the Eastern tradition connects dragons to these), which is also represented by her primarily bluish-green color as opposed to the original Western conception of dragons as representatives of destruction associated with earth and fire (Eason 47 and Blust 531-532). Additionally, Sisu breathes a watery mist or fog. As Robert Blust explains, within Chinese culture, the dragon breathes a special fire that is mixed with water, and it is wet (531-532). Thus, in the Chinese tradition and in all Eastern cultures that were influenced by this, the dragon is a positive creature with regenerative powers, what is more, a certain kind of divine entity with magical abilities, who usually helps humanity to solve their problems as a benefactor (Blust 519-534, Hall 20). Sisu is clearly this. In this film, we have this tradition implemented, hence, in spite of being a Western animated film, the representational approach to Sisu was an Eastern one. Mushu was already created in Mulan as a positive dragon figure, yet he was only a sidekick, a minor character, who provided comic relief. Sisu sometimes appears as the actual protagonist of the story as opposed to Raya. In the meantime, Mushu remains a dimwitted, clumsy, yet well-meaning, and helpful side character, who adds hilarity but in a traditional Disney way. With Raya and Sisu, Disney humor grew up. Mushu’s character was much rather a caricature with many jokes about his tiny size; he was not taken seriously, could not really blow fire just a few puffs, and made a lot of mistakes trying to help Mulan; he was incompetent in many ways and was demoted from being a family guardian to a gong-bearer. In addition, even if it might seem a contradiction but his red color also backfired. He was still much rather a travesty of a mighty dragon than being a real dragon, hence it was still not entirely in line with the Eastern tradition and concepts about a dragon for being powerful, magical, and half-divine — as he was very mundane, cute, and funny. Many Chinese viewers, however, were even offended by Mushu’s figure since “many Chinese moviegoers felt that Mushu “trivialized” their culture—so much so that the movie bombed in China […] This is not a Chinese dragon. […] That the dragon is a sign of respect, and of strength and power, and sort of using it as a silly sidekick did not play well with a traditional Chinese audience” (Westenfeld). Additionally, his voice was provided by Eddie Murphy, which was too much an iconic voice of a famous comedian of the times to ignore – so Mushu became an interesting multicultural combination, an intersection of Chinese culture as well as African-American aspects within a basically White-Western frame. Mushu also embodied American ideals and was eventually rewarded for his efforts.

Sisu, however, is not a caricature of a dragon, but a quite respectful representative of the Eastern traditions in her embodiment of a dragon. She is idolized as a deity, who saved humanity and is revered and looked upon as a role model. Yet, when she reappears, it turns out that she is not that perfect and she is not omnipotent. However, while she is aware of her own powers that she considers to be insignificant, it turns out that it was not an accident that she was chosen to integrate all the powers of brothers and sisters to create a unity and the most powerful weapon against the Druun, which (since the film was produced during the COVID pandemic and several references can be interpreted as reflections and analogies to it) can be also interpreted with reference to the COVID-19. The overall message of the film suggests that we are all in this together, we are all losing a lot, but if we trust each other and join forces, we will defeat the common enemy and the key to this is a funny, blue, female dragon. So, she really stands for unity and creates a connection between the Western and Eastern traditions while generating solidarity, cohesion and cooperation within the filmic world of the story and helps to defeat the common enemy through the simple yet difficult lesson of love and trust finally destroying the Druun – and all this through the intervention of this comic female dragon who managed to keep a delicate balance between Western and Eastern traditions by creating a bridge between these worlds.

Sisu, as a remarkable female character, manages to combine all humor styles and she also utters some wisecracks and generates fun that also differs from the previous low-witted kind of humor that was deemed “proper” for children at Disney. A woman (even if being of a dragon-human shapeshifter) who is witty, wisecracking, and occasionally sarcastic in a Disney film is a special achievement in itself since Disney rarely has funny major female characters. The first female Disney protagonist who actively made jokes and was intentionally humorous was Rapunzel in Tangled (2010); Sarah Wilde even suggested that Rapunzel uses humor as a weapon (2014, 139). In the case of Frozen (2013), Wilde opined that “post-feminist humor” is often employed (2014, 145). In the case of Moana (2016), we also have some glimpses into ironic remarks and comic comments on the part of the protagonist and Gramma Tala as well. However, it is visible from this brief list that the comic development of female characters is a relatively recent trend in Disney, and it is still not present in every animation. In this context thus, I aim to briefly discuss the relationship of women and humor and investigate why is it significant to have a female character, who is making jokes. Sisu is an important source of humor within the story as an initiator of comic situations and comments. The Disney company generally uses censured family-friendly comedies with a certain kind of benign humor to cater to mainstream tastes. However, this film is exceptional since there has been a move away from the safe-play concerning humor, and they stole a little edge into it. This trend has been present since Tangled (2010) but was not so pronounced ever since. Critics often hold it up against Disney that they produce empty sentimentality with films that are not challenging intellectually. As an example, M. Keith Booker opines that “Dream Works wanted to produce films for children that were hippier, smarter, and less sentimental than the traditional Disney animated film, aimed at an audience of children assumed to be more intelligent and sophisticated than Disney had apparently long assumed children to be” (142) and adds that Disney classic animations have “sentimental, simple-minded clichés” (149). I share his opinion acknowledging that at the Disney company, filmmakers tend to think that children are generally dim-witted, however, considering the success of those companies that dare to be intellectually challenging and employ more “grown-up” humor (for example irony), clearly shows that children get it and love it. Jack Zipes is generally also of the opinion that Disney creates “hollow and fluffy narratives,” while discrediting “original thinking” (2011, 87). Zipes also declares that, unlike Disney, Ocelot’s animated films are rather “sophisticated” films where filmmakers respect “the intelligence of his audiences of all ages” (110). Hence, in my opinion, by daring to raise the stakes and also using more intellectual and grown-up humor in Raya, Disney made its point. Zipes is generally critical of Disney and argues for a de-Disneyfication of the world of animated films and children’s films, claiming that Disney creates “saccharine melodrama” (110), where everything is black and white, selling “sweet dreams” and “dumb[s] down the American public,” (105). Because of global influence, these effects reach further than the cultural borders of the US. According to Zipes, the duty of “fairy-tale animation is […] to expose the contradictions of reality in very specific and very universal ways” (2011, 83) while addressing “ideological aspects” of the tales (90). Zipes also adds that the Disney versions of fairy tales are usually “stereotypical musicals” with “slapstick humor” (90). In tandem with Zipes, Sheila Ruzycki O’Brien’s analysis of Cinderella (1950) opines that Disney uses exaggeration to reach a comic effect, especially in a didactic way, in order to highlight normative behavior, making fun of exaggerated bodies and suggesting that the owners of these bodies are not behaving normally either, hence they are laughable and ridiculous (Ruzycki O’Brien 62, 63, 66, 67). Ruzycki O’Brien also highlights that a “technique actually called ‘cartooning’” is often used in such slapstick-kind of scenes for mocking effect and pinpointing their undesirability as marriageable females (70). But in Raya and the Last Dragon we see none of this. Zipes appears to be especially smitten by the Czech and former Soviet fairy tales that dared to challenge the authority with wry and subtle humor (2011, 98), which is exactly what Disney never does (probably because the US has always been a democracy and was never under the rule of a totalitarian regime like the Soviet Union against which the subversive protests could be sublimated in these humorous fairy tale animations). Interestingly, this context is what Zipes always leaves out of his arguments. In a functioning democracy like the US, active citizenship requires one to be part of the body politic with informed mind and constructive criticism and to be aware of the ideology underlying the system. With this background, Disney masterfully conceals its own ideological agenda and poses it as non-ideological. Zipes repeats his condemnation of the Disney model by ascertaining that they produce only “musical love stories filled with notions of elitism, meritocracy, violence, simplistic conflict between good and evil, and a spectacle for the sake of spectacle” (102). Again, Raya is nothing like this.

Paul Wells also opines that Disney animations generally contribute to ways in which they determine how Americans think about a cartoon or an animated film; he is critical of Disney in this respect and overviews many animated films from various parts of the world as true competitors of Disney. He claims that “comedy in animation worked most successfully when mediated through a particular “personality,” a perspective taken up and advanced for many years at the Disney Studios” (499). Then, he praises Disney for the fluidity, naturalness and technical mastery and “the sophistication” of its “physical and situational comedy” (Wells 500). Wells also adds that as Disney started to turn out to be more and more conservative, they also became “lyrical […] sentimental,” and that is why Disney did not want gags only but focused on “character-centered humor” (501) with Disney stories managing to “retain the integrity of the situation” (502). Wells points it out that it was Warner Brothers that took an ironic stance at the beginning as a competitor (500), while Booker mentioned among the current competitors that it is DreamWorks that does the same. With all this, it seems that Disney’s position in the whole field is not to be the ironic one.

Raya is imbued with irony, and the female characters often use irony throughout the film. This definitely means a great shift of perspective in Disney concerning humor. A change has started since the 2010s within the filmmaking company, and Raya and the Last Dragon (2021) remained still in line with the traditional Disney humor formula, but great strides have been made to counter the criticism aimed at them. This film and the main characters signal how Disney tries to find the way to update to the demands of the 21st century while not betraying their heritage. Disney, generally, does not challenge authorities, so even if they produce humor, it is usually the mildest kind. That is why their humor is often criticized for being childish, low-witted and mostly of the slapstick-kind. Yet, I would rather call it “benign humor,” or, as Rebecca Kreftin puts it, in defining various humorous modes employed by entertainers, safe or family-friendly comedy. As Krefting highlights this kind of humort is not offensive or too challenging, although she also slightly criticizes those who use these types of jokes, because for her it is “charged humor” that is the most constructive and effective kind since only this kind of humor secures cultural citizenship, promotes social justice and initiate social change by contributing through education to the amelioration of the situation of minorities. Krefting also argues that charged humor is often “fearlessly critical,” while “bringing pleas for social justice” and criticizing “institutionalized inequality” (2014, 36-37). Nevertheless, Disney tries to cater to mainstream audiences that include a lot of different people, yet, always keeping in mind the middle class ideal. According to Krefting, “safe” comedy is specifically created for “middle America” and it is “characterized by apolitical jokes that focus on shared social concerns and experiences without calling into question the terms of their construction or exclusivity” (3). This humor style is non-threatening and mostly avoids any politicization or controversies. By being politically neutral and offering only quirky and silly humor (Krefting 5), Disney will probably not offend anyone. However, Krefting also opines that safe comedy is potentially also about “selling caricatures, recapitulating stereotypes, and reinforcing the worst audience beliefs and expectations” (7), as opposed to charged humor that is about highlighting “that all is not right in the world” while revealing “the illusion of equality and […] the fragility of freedom in the United States” (6). Disney’s Raya made the first steps of moving away from the safe and family-friendly comedic forms at the heart of which is Sisu.

In 1945 Walt Disney himself wrote about humor and about what he thought about producing humor. It is remarkable to see what he thought then because theoretically and conceptually he reflected on these questions with great insight and with such intellectuality that it is baffling why he did not actually produce the same level of intellectual humor that his article suggests. In his opinion, “humor is an international sixth sense” (327) in which he managed to tap it writing that humor is universal and by using it in films, he can be a bridge across the globe. Disney also mused over the evasiveness of humor and on how hard it is to grasp it, claiming there is not a straight recipe for success when he wrote that “the essence of fun cannot be bottled and then released like some genii at a magic word” (327). When we think about his benign humor or what others find irritating as dim-witted is nothing but a “more gentle” humor focusing on “awkwardness” or on the mistakes of “cute” animals, and while wanting to generate “compassionate laughter” Disney aimed for the “broadly ludicrous” (327). In his opinion, all “these things are invariably funny to all audiences, to all races,” and that is why he produced comedy this way reflecting on this very universality of humor that “comicality is a basic principle of universal life” and suggesting that one cannot live without it, that we all have this ability to address humor even if its rules differ in various cultures (328). He even philosophized that humor involves both “the spirit and […] the flesh” and while the soul needs to soar through it, the body has to roll on the floor with laughter because of it (328). Moreover, when talking about the job of a humorist, here reflecting on himself as a practitioner, Disney said that “[i]t demands a high respect for the power and the value of humor, and humility in its use” (328), claiming that humor is a necessary mechanism in a democracy and a “potent means” for social management while he calls laughter “a priceless coin” (329). Considering all of these comments on the mechanism, technicalities, and the role of humor, it shows that the company owner had a profound understanding of it, and it is paradoxical why he did not make a better use of it. Nevertheless, the winds of change are coming nowadays also to Disney.

Mike Scott says that Raya “on the whole, it’s a reasonably diverting family-friendly showcase for Disney’s characteristic blend of humor, heart and artistry” (2021). In other words, it is the usual Disney humor — with which it is hard for one to agree. In Scott’s opinion, Awkwafina’s performance as a comedian made Sisu great. This is certainly true since she is “voiced charmingly by comedian and actress Awkwafina. (Not only does Awkwafina provide welcome comic relief, but it’s her real-life likeness Sisu assumes when taking human form, one of her multiple powers.)” (2021) Meanwhile Sisu is called goofy by Scott (2021), which is an exaggeration as she is not that dimwitted and clumsy. Alexandra Ramos was rather critical of the humor of this film, and especially of Sisu, although the dragon is exceptional from this point of view because everyone generally agrees that Sisu is funny (for example, she mentions the group project joke right at the beginning that “I understand that it is supposed to be a funny joke but to me, it really took me out of the element. I can’t think of another Disney movie that has a joke like that which doesn’t seem to fit the narrative whatsoever. And it’s not one moment – it’s multiple throughout the film” (2021). Ramos cannot accept the humor use of this film and was especially antagonistic towards Sisu and even Awkwafina, who is also usually acknowledged as a great comedian when she wrote that “Sisu’s character was almost too kiddish. I did not like Sisu. […] I did not like Awkwafina in this role” (2021). Ramos also likens Sisu to Genie from Aladdin, which is not necessarily true because Sisu does not behave like him at all and does not crack jokes like the Genie does. Ramos is also irritated by swimming jokes, which are constitutive elements of the overall humor in the film. She writes that “I get that it’s supposed to be like “alright, we get it, har har” but to me, it just felt annoying” (2021) and concludes that she felt that “many of the jokes feel entirely catered to making young kids laugh” (2021), which is not the case since the humor use in this film is entirely different from that of previous films and the traditional Disney humor. In Raya especially, it was exactly the opposite: it was ‘too’ adult. Dirk Libbey, for example, was relieved that finally, we all got an animated Disney film that is not a “musical,” and praised the humor of the film, especially Awkwafina’s performance as Sisu’s voice – especially on how she made a better and more complex Genie out of Sisu. Libby concludes that “there’s plenty of humor, but it’s balanced perfectly with the more serious elements” (2021). According to G. Allen Johnson, this animated film created a perfect balance on many levels and became “an instant animated classic that expertly balances emotion, humor and social politics amid a backdrop of surreal, eye-popping visual beauty” (2021). Johnson finds the film perfectly balanced humor-wise calling Sisu “the soul” of the intradiegetic story while Awkwafina is also praised as the person behind this truly humorous character. Johnson observes that “Awkwafina especially walks a tightrope here, providing many of the laughs but also some of the most heartbreaking dramatic moments of the movie.” (2021) Another critic, Bob Garver is also of the opinion that Sisu is a Genie remake (which is still not the case) adding that she brings some “ill-fittingly modern comedy into the movie” (2021). He is also generally critical of Sisu and Awkwafina behind her and claims that it is the typical Disney fare – which, in my opinion, is not. Finally, Luke Y. Thompson opined that Sisu is a “wise-cracking dragon, voiced by a comedically gifted actor (Awkwafina, in this case)” (2021), considering Sisu a truly funny character who is perfectly synchronized by the real-life actor.

Since Sisu is a female character, even if it seems at points rather androgynous, a few words about women’s humor is also due. There is still the persistent misbelief that women do not have a sense of humor, or not as good as that of men, and they are not usually seen as producers of humor (Krefting 47, Martin 25). But Sisu, as I have mentioned it earlier, is an important source of humor in the story and is not only the butt of the jokes or serving as comic relief. Even if there are jokes at her expense, these are balanced by her initiation of humor and witty comebacks (or sometimes even sarcastic remarks). Scholars addressing questions of women’s humor claim that a woman who speaks and acts funny is still interpreted (even today) as going “against the status quo of female behavior,” while challenging “an unwritten law of female demeanor” (Chiaro and Baccolini 8). Sabrina Fuchs Abrams writes that since humor is traditionally associated with aggression, intellect and sexuality, it is still viewed as “inaccessible to women” making the concept that ideal femininity and humor are incompatible (2). Daniel Wickberg said that “the image of the person without a sense of humor was codified in the image of woman,” in addition, a “man without a sense of humor” while a “woman with a sense of humor” were/are generally seen as anomalies (91, emphasis in the original). However, reality has always proved that women do have a sense of humor and, as Nancy Walker argues, a female humorist can be dangerous and is thus viewed as an anomaly precisely because she “confronts and subverts” the power structure that keeps women as well as other minorities oppressed and powerless (9). Thus, the use of humor constitutes a major risk because a (publicly) humorous woman might alienate those “upon whom women are dependent for economic survival” (9). Kristen Anderson Wagner also shared this opinion that comic women are threatening when she observed that “[w]omen who engage in comic performances have the potential to subvert the social structures that keep them oppressed; by poking fun at those in power, especially men, women have the ability to expose their weaknesses and challenge their authority” (40). Rebecca Krefting shares this view that “women who are funny are seen as potentially threatening” (116). Evidently, all women understand the irony of the fundamental absurdity behind the concepts about women’s humorlessness, and, as Nancy Walker underlined, “America’s female humorists have demonstrated an awareness that they were writing humor in the face of a prevailing opinion that they were not capable of what they were in fact, at that moment, doing” (x).

Raya and Sisu both produce humor, especially irony (with even sarcastic comments) and get involved in comic banter on several occasions (like in a buddy movie) with each other, which is paramount. The two major female characters of the animated film are funny women, and they do not demure about it. That is why it is extraordinary that, for the first time in Disney history, filmmakers created a story where humor genera is not connected to men (cf. Krefting 2014) but to women, hence the basic assumption is that women are funny, so this it is indeed a paradigm shift in Disney’s representation of women’s humor. Additionally, these two comic characters also engage in comic dialogues with men, but even more importantly, they pose fundamental questions about what it means to be a woman (on many levels), especially through humor (for example, when Sisu repeatedly teases Raya about the lack of cooking abilities, or when Raya tells Sisu to remind her never to have children when the kids become too irritating on the ship). Disney created a funny female dragon as well as other funny human females, and this made a significant step towards gender equality. Hence, they worked to create an egalitarian world in this animated film not only from the point of view of political power, leadership, social prominence or violence, aggression, physical strength, dexterity, persistence, inventiveness, intelligence, but also from the point of view of humor. Disney has already started this trend with Tangled, and continued with Brave, Frozen, Zootopia, and Moana but Raya is full of refined, subtle and delicate ironies —with the most ironic utterances produced by Raya and Sisu, — charged with some subtle instances of vulgar and scatological humor when Tuk Tuk (Raya’s third-armadillo and third-pug hybrid pet) “cutely vomits” food on the ship (Hall et al. 53 min) or the shorter body-quicker digestion joke (Hall et al. 33 min.). Sisu provides the widest spectrum of humorous utterances since she is the one who makes jokes from the level of potty humor to even the level of slight sarcasm towards the end, when she asks for food and Raya has only that beef jerky-kind of food that Sisu hates, she quips with slight disgust: “Raya, I am so hungry./ I’ve got some jerky. / Not that hungry” (Hall et al. 1 h 31 min), jokingly criticizing Raya’s cooking skills as well as her taste in food. Sisu also uses self-deprecating humor for various social purposes. From the various humor styles defined by Rod A. Martin, including that of affiliative, self-enhancing, aggressive, and self-defeating (132), Sisu uses almost all kinds of humor styles in this story: for coping or boosting morale, there is self-enhancing or affiliative humor, while aggressive humor (put-downs), sarcasm and ridiculing (when criticizing something) or self-deprecating humor (making fun of ourselves) also occur. Rod A. Martin also discusses aspects of gender on humor production and appreciation, suggesting that men tend to be more tendentious in their humor use while women are typically in favor of non-tendentious humor; with men in favor of canned humor more than the spontaneous and anecdotal humor that women prefer. If we have a look at the Humor Styles Questionnaire that Martin et al. created in 2003, the results show that the affiliative and self-enhancing styles are more typical of women, while the aggressive and self-defeating styles are more typical of men. There is no great difference between men and women in the case of the positive styles, yet, in the negative humor styles, men seem to be more pronounced whether it is self-directed or other-directed. In Raya, there is a visible correlation with the findings above, even though it is mostly Sisu herself who also provides the negative humor styles. She also uses positive and negative humor strategies and ranging from bodily humor and slapstick to intellectual humor, comic criticism, irony, teasing, even meta-references and self-reflective comments on the humor use itself or on the laughter that she produces.

Finally, another interesting aspect of Sisu is that even if she is a transcendental being who is ageless, timeless and apparently eternal, in a human form she still looks like an elderly lady, or much rather as somebody’s funny elderly aunt or a granny. The snappiest, wittiest and most instrumental of such grannies are usually in Chinese-related stories such as Mulan (1998), Abominable (2019) or Turning Red (2022), but evidently one of the most recent of such important funny grannies was Gramma Tala in Moana (2016). Both Rebecca-Anne C. Do Rozario (2004) and Douglas Brode (2005) agree that these elderly female figures of the Disney oeuvre are central to the plots and the development of the heroines, and they even exert power and have a major influence on how the narrative unfolds. In my opinion, these ‘kickass’ grannies, while seemingly innocent and inconsequential, actually reach great impact through their humorous comments and Sisu fits their pattern. Krefting also opines that “Moms” Mabley also applied a “sassy grandmother” posture to get away with many comments that might not have been pardonable otherwise (6). With this, Sisu molds into the circle of these extraordinary funny granny figures, who are brave and smart-mouthed and through their humor they can truly make a difference. Sisu’s comic situations arise out of her inappropriate, incongruous or inadept behavior or utterances when she is in a human form, since she does not know how to behave as a human being and she is clueless about societal regulations, behavioral rules and cultural expectations. In such cases, she is rather the butt of the joke, but this just makes her performative palette even more colorful, as she also usually tries to ameliorate awkward situations through humor, thus her awkwardness is also a source of humor. With its characters, Raya and the Last Dragon brought great changes in the storytelling styles of Disney especially from the point of view of humor that centered on Sisu, an outstanding Disney figure because she is the embodiment of the Eastern representational traditions concerning a dragon in a Western animated film, especially by being a positive character, balancing the Western and the Eastern cultural elements. She also provides a positive role model and is an empowering presence especially for Asian-American audiences but most importantly, is a female character who produces most of the humor of the animated film by utilizing various styles and modes. In this context, thus, Sisu brings about a paradigm shift in the representation of women in animated films that also opened new paths for the representation of women’s humor.


Works Cited