Disney has shared a first look at its upcoming CG animated film Raya and the Last Dragon. It’s also been announced that Star Wars actress Kelly Marie Tran has been cast in the lead role.
The movie was developed from remote locations during the COVID-19 pandemic, and according to director Don Hall (Winnie the Pooh, Big Hero Six, Moana), it’s “the most beautiful animated film I’ve ever seen.” Hall is directing the film alongside Carlos López Estrada (Blindspotting). The script of which comes from playwright Qui Nguyen and Crazy Rich Asians scribe Adele Lim. Paul Briggs and John Ripa serve as co-directors.
The photo, which comes from EW, features the main character Raya (Tran) along with her trusty steed Tuk Tuk, a creature that Hall describes as a “fuzzy bear meets an insect version of an armadillo.”
The story for the film centers on an evil force that “threatens the fictional kingdom of Kumandra,” and the two characters “must leave their Heart Lands home and track down the last dragon to help stop the villainous Druun.”
Awkwafina also stars in the film and will be playing Sisu, “a dragon in human form who needs Raya’s help to reclaim her power and become her true dragon self.”
Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Chief Creative Officer Jennifer Lee talked about the creative team developing the project saying:
“As filmmakers, Don and Carlos bring a combination of animation know-how and emotional storytelling to Raya and the Last Dragon, bringing our fantasy adventure to surprising, original, and dynamic heights. They both saw the potential for this film and had a strong vision for the story, especially for our lead character, played by the wonderfully talented Kelly Marie Tran. And no small feat, directors Don and Carlos, writers Qui and Adele, and the entire crew of 400 Disney Animation artists are making this film together, while separated and working from home.”
When talking about Tran taking on the lead role, Hall said, “she is Raya — just her buoyancy and her positivity, but yet there’s a strength as well to Kelly and the character.” They went on to praise her comedy ability with ad-libs, but it “was the level of emotion she brought to the role that really surprised them.” When talking about that, López Estrada shared:
“We had this little dramatic moment; it was written as a few lines. And I remember her going, ‘Hey, I have some ideas because this is normally how I would say this or I have some questions. Do you mind if I tried it a little bit differently?’ She went for it, improvised for a minute, and had us all in tears. We changed the scene and reblocked the animation so that it would follow what Kelly did that day because she just clicked on something that was so much bigger than anything we had imagined.”
Tran also opened up about the character she plays in the film and teases what we can look forward to seeing, such as some cool fight scenes, and more “high-octane” action:
“She is someone who is technically a princess but I think that what’s really cool about this project, about this character, specifically is that everyone’s trying to flip the narrative on what it means to be a princess. Raya is totally a warrior. When she was a kid, she was excited to get her sword. And she grows up to be a really badass, gritty warrior and can really take care of herself.”
When creating the film, it was important to the filmmakers to accurately celebrate the cultures that influenced the story, including Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. They put in a lot of effort to get all of the details of these cultures right, and in regard to that Qui Nguyen said, “To be able to have some [heroes] that look like me and my kids, it’s gonna matter to a lot of folks.”
The film is 50 percent complete at this point, and López Estrada went on to talk about how Raya mirrors the current state of the world saying:
“I don’t know if Disney has ever made a movie that reflects so much what is happening with the world outside. Even though our team has been working on this movie for years and years and years, it’s going to feel like an idea that we had maybe a month ago because it talks so much about the themes and the questions and the hope that’s happening today and also the lack of hope, and this wrestling with all these really, really important emotions that are happening right now.”
Raya and the Last Dragon is set to premiere March 12th, 2021.