"Raya and the Last Dragon" to be Disney's First Film with a Southeast Asian Lead

Groundbreaking in many respects, Raya and the Last Dragon is soon to be Walt Disney Animation Studios' first feature-length film featuring a Southeast Asian heroine.

First look image from Raya and the Last Dragon. Also, the first fully-rendered CG (Computer Graphics) image of the movie. Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Additionally, Raya and the Last Dragon will be the company's first feature-length film developed almost entirely from remote locations. With the Covid-19 pandemic hitting in March, the film's production team faced unique challenges, specifically in working with equipment at home and communicating through Zoom. Despite these issues, the studio's various teams were able to produce what director Don Hall describes as "the most beautiful animated film I've ever seen."

"..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." - Jennifer Lee, Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios

Set in the fictional kingdom of Kumandra, Raya and the Last Dragon is located in a world where humans and dragons once lived in harmony long ago. This film's vibrant setting takes inspiration from several Southeast Asian countries and cultures, including Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

In this world, the dragons sacrificed themselves to defeat the Druun, villainous monsters. When the Druun return nearly 500 years later, our protagonist Raya leaves her home and embarks on a journey to find Sisu, the last dragon. She's accompanied by her trusty steed Tuk Tuk (pictured above) whose described as a fuzzy bear meets "an insect version of an armadillo."

Raya, voiced by Kelly Marie Tran, is soon to be Walt Disney Animation Studios' first Southeast Asian heroine. Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Kelly Marie Tran, known for her role as rebel mechanic Rose Tico in Star Wars, will be voicing Raya, replacing Cassie Steele and making her the first Southeast Asian-American to lead a Walt Disney Animation Studios film. As announced last August, Awkwafina will be voicing Sisu, a rare water dragon capable of transforming into a human being.

Raya, the daughter of a chief, redefines the classic Disney princess according to Tran. Director Carlos López Estrada supported this claim, teasing that audiences can expect chases, fight scenes, and more "high-octane" action from our heroine.

“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 bad*ss, gritty warrior and can really take care of herself." - Kelly Marie Tran

Raya and Tuk Tuk, her trusty companion, alongside Sisu, seen in the background.

Walt Disney Animation Studios.

As far as representation, the filmmakers are going to great efforts to accurately depict the Southeast Asian cultures influencing Raya and the Last Dragon. According to producer Osnat Shurer, creative teams traveled to multiple countries in Southeast Asia on research trips. Additionally, they collaborated with a Southeast Asia Story Trust, a Lao visual anthropologist, who provide feedback on every design before finalization, and dozens of other experts including linguists, dancers, and Gamelan musicians from Indonesia.

"To have the artists who represent those cultures in there to be able to give the subtleties of what our families are actually like, what our relationships are actually like, has given a lot of nuances to this great adventure.. ..To be able to have some [heroes] that look like me and my kids, it's gonna matter to a lot of folks." - Qui Nguyen, the film's playwright

Initially set to open Thanksgiving weekend, Raya and the Last Dragon will be open theatrically on March 12, 2021 - four months after Pixar's upcoming film Soul. As of late August, the film is roughly 50% animated according to director Don Hall. For more information, use the link below to access a YouTube video.

Disney - Raya & the Last Dragon - First Look at Raya (2021)


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