Kelly Marie Tran has been recast to voice the main character in “Raya and the Last Dragon,” Disney’s animated adventure set in Southeast Asia.
The Vietnamese American star replaces Cassie Steele, who is Filipino Canadian, to become the first Southeast Asian lead in a Disney animated film. So far, there is no official reason for the recast.
Check out the first look of Raya, voiced by Kelly Marie Tran, in Raya and the Last Dragon, from directors Don Hall & Carlos López Estrada, writers Qui Nguyen & Adele Lim, producers Osnat Shurer and Peter Del Vecho, and co-directors Paul Briggs & John Ripa. In Theaters 3/12/21. pic.twitter.com/W0LHnV00fM
— Disney Animation (@DisneyAnimation) August 27, 2020
Set in the fictional kingdom of Kumandra, the movie follows Raya, a lone warrior who “teams up with a crew of misfits in her quest to find the Last Dragon and bring light and unity back to their world.”
The film was originally expected to hit theaters in November, but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed its debut to March 12, 2021.
Tran rose to fame in 2017 after playing a rebel mechanic named Rose Tico in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” She reprised the role in last year’s “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” the ninth and final chapter in the “Skywalker” saga.
“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,” Tran told Entertainment Weekly of her new role. “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.”
Carlos López Estrada, who directed the film with Don Hall, recalled being so impressed with Tran’s comedy and ad-lib skills that they had to change a scene to match her performance.
“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?'” Estrada told EW. “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.”
Qui Nguyen (“Dispatches From Elsewhere”) and Adele Lim (“Crazy Rich Asians”) penned the script. Tran will star alongside Awkwafina, who plays Sisu, a rare water dragon capable of transforming into a human.
“We keep saying [it’s about] sisterhood,” Awkwafina told Variety last year. “Raya — when we talk about Disney idols — she’s, as you would say, ‘bad ass.'”
Feature Images via Getty (left) and Disney Animation (right)