Walt Disney Animation Studios’ has shared a first look at its upcoming CG animated film Raya and the Last Dragon starring Star Wars actress Kelly Marie Tran.
The story follows fearless warrior Raya (voiced by Tran) as she seeks to save the realm from evil forces in the fictional fantasy world Kumandra, a “reimagined Earth inhabited by an ancient civilization that venerated the mythical dragons.” Actress and rapper Awkwafina voices Sisu, a rare water dragon who can transform into a human being.
The photo released features the main character Raya wearing a conical hat and brandishing a Kris sword alongside her trusty steed Tuk Tuk, a creature which has been described as a cross between a fuzzy bear and an “insect version of an armadillo.”
Tran first shot to fame as rebel mechanic Rose Tico in 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the final chapter in the nine-part Skywalker saga. Her casting in Raya and the Last Dragon makes her the first Southeast Asian American to lead a Disney animated film.
According to director Don Hall (Winnie the Pooh, Big Hero Six, Moana), the film was developed from remote locations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The fictional land Kumandra, which is comprised of five separate clans, is said to be inspired by different Southeast Asian cultures, including Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Aside from the landscapes, the film also draws inspiration from martial arts movies.
I felt so seen, and it was such a blissful feeling. I don't know if I can even explain it, but it was this surprise.
The film, directed by Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada and written by Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim (Crazy Rich Asians), is said to be Disney Animation Studios' first film to be inspired by Southeast Asia.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Tran, who replaced Cassie Steele in the title role, stressed that the film's representation isn't just lip service, as Disney employed whole research teams to ensure accuracy in the artistic influences.
"I remember having this experience of recognizing some of the words and recognizing some of the names and the locations and even certain characters and our job descriptions of what influenced them to be a certain way," Tran says. "I felt so seen, and it was such a blissful feeling. I don't know if I can even explain it, but it was this surprise. I've worked on some things before which obviously weren't as culturally specific as this, and I don't think that I knew that I needed that."
Raya and the Last Dragon is set to premiere on March 12, 2021 in US theaters.
(Image via Disney)