Disney is making some changes to its next big female-fronted animated movie. Raya and the Last Dragon was revealed during the Studios presentation at D23 last year, and since then, the film has been pushed back to March 12, 2021, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It seems that Disney has decided to take the movie in a slightly different direction since then. Today they shared a new image and announced some changes to the creative team. Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada are directing, with Paul Briggs and John Ripa co-directing. Osnat Shurer and Peter Del Vecho are the producers, and Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim are writers according to the press release sent by Disney. The other big announcement is that Cassie Steele, who was originally announced to voice Reya, has been replaced with Kelly Marie Tran. Awkwafina is still confirmed to voice Sisu, a dragon in human form, that was announced at D23 last year. Entertainment Weekly also got some lovely quotes from the creative team regarding the movie.
"As filmmakers, Don and Carlos bring a combination of animation know-how and emotional storytelling to Raya and the Last Dragon, bringing our fantasy adventure to surprising, original, and dynamic heights," Walt Disney Animation Studios' Chief Creative Officer Jennifer Lee says in a statement to EW. "They both saw the potential for this film and had a strong vision for the story, especially for our lead character, played by the wonderfully talented Kelly Marie Tran. And 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."
When it came to casting Tran in the leading role López Estrada said that it was one of those moments where they just knew she was right for the role. There was even a moment that was changed and reblocked because Tran went in a different direction.
"I'm never going to forget it," López Estrada tells EW. "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?'" 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."
Tran, who was shot onto the main stage with her role in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, seems very excited to take on the voice of another subversion of the Disney princess.
"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 says. "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."
We should expect to learn more about Raya and the Last Dragon in the late fall or early winter since it really seems to depend on whether or not they can restart full production and if there are any more delays due to COVID-19.