Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon is the first Disney Animation feature to be developed from remote locations in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With production at its peak in March just as the pandemic hit, the development team found new ways to work with equipment at home and communicating through Zoom.
Despite the challenges, director Don Hall (Winnie the Pooh, Big Hero 6, and Moana) considers Raya “the most beautiful animated film I’ve ever seen” and will celebrate the cultures which influenced the movie, including Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
They also collaborated with a visual anthropologist who looks at every design before it’s finalized, as well as linguists, dancers, and Gamelan musicians from Indonesia.
Raya will star Kelly Marie Tran, who took over the part from Cassie Steele, Awkwafina, as Sisu, a dragon in human form who needs Raya’s help to reclaim her power and become her true dragon self.
Also announced are Hall and Carlos López Estrada as directors, while playwright Qui Nguyen is joining Crazy Rich Asians’ Adele Lim as co-writer. Paul Briggs and John Ripa will serve as co-directors.
Not only is Raya Disney Animation Studios’ first movie inspired by Southeast Asia, but Tran is the first Southeast Asian actress to lead a film from the company.
The movie will also showcase Tran’s comedy and ad-lib skills — which brings a level of emotion that surprised the directors so much they changed a scene to match her performance.
Raya, the daughter of a chief, redefines the classic Disney princess.
As seen below, EW has exclusively revealed a first look image from Raya and the Last Dragon, which is the first fully rendered CG image of the movie.
Featured in the picture are Raya and her trusty steed Tuk Tuk, a creature Hall describes as a fuzzy bear meets “an insect version of an armadillo.” As an evil force threatens the fictional kingdom of Kumandra, the two must leave their Heart Lands home and track down the last dragon to help stop the villainous Druun.
Raya and the Last Dragon is set to premiere March 12, 2021.