From a galaxy far, far away to a magical new land, the heroine behind The Last Jedi’s Rose Tico is finding new ways to delight us.
When Disney first revealed its next big animated movie, Raya and the Last Dragon, at D23 last year, it also revealed that it had cast Degrassi: The Next Generation’s Cassie Steele as the titular heroine, tasked with saving her homeland Kumandra by finding the titular last dragon, Sisu (voiced by Awkwafina). But in a new interview with Entertainment Weekly, newly announced directors Don Hall (Big Hero 6, Moana) and Carlos López Estrada (Blindspotting) confirmed that the main role had been recast since the film’s delay into March 2021 (it had originally been set to come out this November).
“We had this little dramatic moment; it was written as a few lines,” López Estrada told EW, recalling Tran’s audition for the role. “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.”
Although Raya is set in a fictionalized kingdom inspired by the cultures of Southeast Asia, Tran, a Vietnamese American, will be the first actress of Southeast Asian descent to lead a Disney movie.
“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 EW. “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.”
Raya and the Last Dragon is currently set to hit Australian theatres on March 25, 2021.