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Kelly Marie Tran will take over the lead role in Disney's upcoming Raya and the Last Dragon

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Aug 27, 2020, 3:38 PM EDT

Raya and the Last Dragon, Disney's upcoming animated film first announced last August, has gone through some behind-the-scenes shake-ups after being delayed alongside PIxar's Soul. Now the Southeast Asia-inspired movie (focused on the cultures of Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, and the Philippines) has new directors, a new co-writer, and one exciting new lead — Kelly Marie Tran — to help usher in this story of one girl and her quest to find the last of a legendary species.

According to EW, there's a lot of newness coming from the film, which looks to replace Cassie Steele with Star Wars actress Tran in the title role. The other part of the title (that whole "last dragon" thing) will still be tackled by Awkwafina, who'll be playing Sisu. She'll be in human form at first, needing Raya to help her return to full-on fire-breathing reptile of legend. Together, the pair will need to stop baddie Druun. There's also a secret third female lead that the filmmakers aren't divulging. And speaking of filmmakers, there's a lot of them.

Helming this feat will be directors Don Hall (Moana) and Carlos López Estrada (Blindspotting), co-directors Paul Briggs and John Ripa (Frozen), and writers Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim. It takes a village - and hopefully one that respects dragons rather than fears them. The film is underway with everyone working from home, but they're mostly still excited about landing Tran as the new lead.

“I'm never going to forget it,” López Estrada said of her audition. “I think [Don and I] rode in the car together, and we were quiet, looking at each other and nodding our heads just being like, ‘Yep, yep, yep. Kelly's perfect.'"

“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?’” López Estrada explained. “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.”

Hall's take? "She is Raya — just her buoyancy and her positivity, but yet there's a strength as well to Kelly and the character." And yes, she's a Disney princess (daughters of chiefs count, right?). “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 said. “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.”

Take a look at Raya and her ride, Tuk Tuk, below in the first image from the film:


Raya and the Last Dragon heads to theaters on March 12, 2021.