May is the month of recognizing and celebrating the cultures, contributions, and influences of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI)! This month has been my peak of 2021 thus far, as I have learned so much about AAPI Heritage (my friend Preethi has a whole AAPI learning packet for families that we are loving!). But the teachings and conversion should not stop once June 1 comes by. We should all continue listening and learning from different voices. A great way I have introduced content from varying cultures into my home is through movies. Who doesn’t love them, right? It’s an excellent way for family-friendly fun while educating yourself, and seeing different people and cultures represented in the process. I’ve put together a list of Asian American and Pacific Islander movies on Disney Plus and beyond.
But before we jump into that I want to share a bit of my heart and say how important it is that we stop to appreciate people who are different than us. Pause these movies and have conversations. Our differences are our strength, not a weakness we should feel the need to hide from. Let’s try harder to love, not hate, and stand up for others who need an ally.
Thanks for coming to my mini soap box. Now, here are 27 incredible movies we can all enjoy to keep to keep the AAPI Heritage conversations and celebrations going through the rest of the year. If you just want to hop in and download the list real quick to get started click here.
Asian American and Pacific Islander movies on Disney Plus
We all know and love this ancient tale. Aladdin, a kind street boy, is granted three wishes by a genie when he finds a magical lamp. He uses his wishes to impress the princess of Agrabah, Princess Jasmine, and along the way goes on an adventure of friendship, love, and conquering the evil usurper Jaffar.
Bend it Like Beckham
An early 2000’s hit, Bend it like Beckham follows the life of Jess Bharma, a British-Indian girl with a love for soccer. Jess does not share her parents’ or community’s wishes for her to get married and instead wants to pursue soccer. This leads to a tale about acceptance, disrupting the status quo, and fighting for what you want.
Big Hero 6
This Academy Award-winning Disney Animation film tells the story of Hiro, a robotics prodigy who loses his brother, Tadashi, in a tragic fire. He completes his brother’s unfinished robotics project, Baymax. He, the robot, and his friends form a superhero team to find the person responsible for the loss of his brother. Word of advice? Bring along some tissues.
The theme of reconnecting to your roots is highlighted in this story about two Brooklyn-born siblings who are taken to Oahu to care for their grandfather, who suffered a heart attack. Here, they encounter a journal that sets them on a journey to find a long-lost treasure and, in turn, a journey of discovery.
The Jungle Book
Forget about your worries and your strife… Based on the literary classic by Rudyard Kipling, this tale shows how Mowgli, a child raised by wolves, must leave his family to escape Sher Khan, an evil Bengali tiger trying to kill him. Throughout his travels, he meets many other jungle animals and learns more about himself and the world.
Lilo and Stitch
Quirky, funny, and heartwarming. Who doesn’t love Lilo and Stitch? Lilo, a lonely little girl, mistakes Stitch, an unruly alien experiment who crash-landed on Earth as a dog, and adopts him. Lilo and Stitch go on the journey of discovering what friendship is and learn what it means to be a family. Spoiler alert: it means that no one gets left behind.
After the plants and fish start to die on her island, teenage Moana must brave the open sea to return the heart of goddess Te Fitti from Maui, a demigod, and bring balance back to nature. You will love Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Maui, along with the beautiful exploration of Polynesian culture. I know I did! Plus the soundtrack? Amazing!!
A Disney animated classic, the film explores the journey of a Chinese woman, Mulan, who takes the place of her frail father in the army by disguising herself as a man. This ancient tale aims to show the flaws in patriarchal beliefs and systems.
The 2020 live-action remake of the 1998 Disney original tells the same story of Mulan, a woman who disguises herself as a man to fight in a war, with slight changes to keep it fresh. This version eliminates the musical element and adopts a more realistic, serious, and dramatic tone.
Raya and the Last Dragon
It has been 500 years since dragons and humans lived in harmony in the magical Land of Kumandra. When Druun, a species of evil monsters came, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. When the Druun returns, Raya must find the last dragon to destroy the Druun and restore peace.
This Disney Channel movie tells the story of 13-year-old Sydney Miller, who learns how to surf while visiting a plantation she inherited, called Makai. A lot of self-discovery needs to be done when she is faced with the decision of selling the five-generation old plantation or not. Rip Girls takes you right back to the early 2000s Disney aesthetic, and I love the nostalgia!
A favorite in my home! UP is not only entertaining but teaches you so much about life that you thought you already knew but didn’t. When Carl’s wife Ellie dies, the 78-year-old commits himself to achieve one of his lifelong goals, finding Paradise Falls. He ties many balloons to his house (I’m talking about a lot of balloons) and begins to fly away in it to the South American wilderness. However, in mid sky, he shockingly discovers a stowaway, Russel, a little boy-scout who complicates his journey.
Wendy Wu’s perfect teenage life is flipped upside down forever when Chinese monk, Shen, shares with her that she is a reincarnated Yin warrior. She is faced with tough decisions and challenges to fulfill her purpose to defeat the ancient evil warrior Yin Lo. It has action, humor, and Brenda Song! What’s not to like?
Turning Red is another excellent addition to the Pixar library of animated films! Featuring an incredibly well-told story filled with humor, heartwarming moments, memorable characters, and valuable lessons on the importance of staying true to yourself, Turning Red is perfect for the whole family.
Shang-Chi and The Legend Of The Ten Rings
Shang-Chi is an action story with a brilliant blend of mystical, otherworldly scenes and down-to-earth characters wrapped into a heartwarming tale that captures Asian culture beautifully. If you are after cinematography and special effects that will make you gasp in awe, this is the one for you.
Asian American and Pacific Islander Short Films on Disney Plus
One of my favorite movies proves that just because it is a short film does not make it any less impactful! Bao is about a Chinese-Canadian mother who is experiencing empty nest syndrome. With no children in the house, she becomes lonely and sad, however, gets an unexpected and intriguing second chance at experiencing motherhood when her steamed bun comes to life. Bao is an Academy Award winner for a reason!
This short film is the fourth to be produced in Pixar’s “SparkShorts” program, and it is undoubtedly one of the program’s best received. Float is essentially a story about acceptance and love. It is about a father who struggles to grapple with his son’s new ability to fly. He attempts to ground his son and is frustrated by his child’s inability to be ‘normal’ but soon realizes that his son’s happiness is more important than outsiders’ opinions.
This beautifully produced short film is a love letter of sorts to tropical islands and the oceans surrounding them. The story follows a lonely volcano that spends his days watching the wildlife interacting with their mates around him while he remains without one. In his sadness, he sings to the ocean every day for thousands of years, not knowing that a female undersea volcano listens to his singing every day and has fallen in love with him. It’s a touching tale told through stunning visuals and a definite must-watch this month and always.
Sanjay’s Super Team
It’s only seven minutes but packed with quality content! Sanjay’s Super Team tells the story of a young Indian boy who imagines Hindu gods as superheroes when he becomes bored when his father makes him meditate. The film is based on a (mostly) true story as writer and director Sanjay Patel also let his imagination run wild to get him through his father’s mandatory mediation sessions.
AAPI Movies Beyond Disney Plus
My Neighbor Totoro
It’s an old one, but the best ones tend to be. This Japanese fantasy film tells the tale of two girls who move to the countryside to be closer to their ailing mother. They soon meet Totoro, a giant rabbit-like creature who is a spirit, and go on marvelous adventures. It’s a family film in its purest form.
If you haven’t already noticed from this list, my family and I love Japanese movies. Ponyo is a perfect representation as to why. The film is about a goldfish who escapes from the ocean and is rescued by a five-year-old human boy. As they bond with each other, the story deals with resolving Ponyo’s desire to become a human girl. It’s complex, deep, and highly artistic.
Koshien: Japan’s Field of Dreams
Need a shot of inspiration? This unparalleled documentary about a high school baseball team and their journey to winning the championship is sure to give you an adrenaline high! Not to mention that it teaches you so much about baseball’s place in Japanese society.
Kubo and the Two Strings
With a star-studded voice cast and breathtaking animation, Kubo and the Two Strings is one to remember! The film revolves around Kubo, a young boy who wields a magical shamisen and whose left eye was stolen during infancy. He must battle evil to protect his family and solve the mystery of his fallen father, the greatest samurai warrior the world has ever known.
This is a beloved tale about Okko, an orphan who goes to live in the countryside with her grandmother at a traditional Japanese inn. She soon falls into the tedious routine of caring for the building, but everything changes when she discovers kind spirits who keep her company and help her become comfortable in her new environment. It’s full of energy and color!
Over the Moon
I’ve already booked time off in my calendar to rewatch this fantastic production! Over the Moon tells the story of Fei Fei, an adventurous girl who builds a rocket ship to meet a mythical goddess on the moon. It takes you on a visual and emotional journey and stays on your mind well after the credits have rolled.
The Speed Cubers
Another documentary that teaches you a whole lot while still being funny and entertaining! It follows the journeys of Rubik’s Cube-solving champions Max Park and Feliks Zemdeg, with twists and turns throughout to keep you intrigued. But it goes further than just telling the story of competition; it explores friendship, respect, and hope for the future.
Spelling the Dream
An intriguing and educational insight into the Indian American experience and the traditional work ethic they practice. Spelling the Dream is a documentary about the recent obsession with competitive spelling-bees amongst the Indian American community. It explores critical themes of success, the “American dream,” and the immigrant family’s place in this discourse. It may not be the lightest watch, but it is most definitely an important one.
A classic that will always be impactful! Spirited Away tells the story of a 10-year-old girl who, while moving to a new neighborhood, enters the world of Kami (spirits). Her parents get turned into pigs by the witch Yubaba, and she now has to find a way to free herself and her parents and return to the human world. It is vivid, magical and sweeps you away with the protagonist to a whole new realm for two hours of adventures.
Taking place in modern day China, determined teen Din is longing to reconnect with his childhood best friend when he meets a wish-granting dragon that shows him the magic of possibilities. Make sure you write this one in on your checklist because it’s a good one you’ll want to watch together! Here’s our spoiler-free review of Wish Dragon to help you know what you’re in for.
If you enjoy foreign language films and appreciate the very different humor of Asian movies, then this could be for you. Telling the story of a family who creates an imaginary wedding to spend time together, The Farewell is a genuinely unique movie that is uplifting, heartbreaking, and comical in equal measures.
It’s so important to expose yourself to new cultures and experiences. It only serves to enrich your own life and understanding of the world. These movies are beautiful, informative, and entertaining. Getting lost in this thought-provoking content is a perfect way to spend AAPI month or anytime throughout the year!
How many of these movies have you already seen? Which will you watch first?
READY TO START WATCHING? GET THE CHECKLIST!
Download and print my Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander Movies checklist by clicking here!
NOT INTO PRINTING?
Not into printing things? That’s ok too! You can download it to your phone and check off the boxes as you go that way too. Looking for a smaller version to share on Instagram? Check out my Instagram Story highlights!
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