Raya and the Last Dragon concept art

In 2018, some details began to leak online about a possible new Walt Disney Animation project rumored to be called Dragon Empire. We knew that Disney story artists Paul Briggs (Frozen) and Dean Wellins (Zootopia) were attached to make their directorial debut, with Moana producer Osnat Shurer overseeing and Adele Lim (Crazy Rich Asians) writing the script.

Now that project has officially been announced, and its real title has been revealed to be Raya and the Last Dragon. Here’s what we learned about the movie at the D23 Expo.

Jennifer Lee, Walt Disney Animation’s chief creative officer, took the stage to introduce the filmmakers and announce Raya and the Last Dragon, a project that’s inspired by the beautiful and diverse cultures of Southeast Asia. They traveled the region for research to create this epic fantasy adventure. Lim says this film is special: she was raised in Southeast Asia and grew up watching Disney movies (attendees saw a photo of her dressed up as Snow White when she was a kid), and she loved Hong Kong action movies as well.

This film takes place in a reimagined Earth with five distinct lands. Together, they form the land of the dragon, but actual dragons are long gone. It’s been invaded by a dark force, and Raya is on a quest to find the last dragon, which she thinks will save them.

The first footage showed a lush planet with a foggy sky. It’s raining, and a mouse-like creature runs on the plants. The footage looks incredibly realistic. “Our world was created by dragons,” a child says off screen. We see a warrior step in mud. “But before they left, they had a gift for people.” The warrior walks up an ancient staircase, still in the midst of a downpour of rain. The voiceover continues: “A powerful, yet dangerous gift.” The warrior continues through a tunnel with ancient carvings, with a torch lighting the way. “But what we will find? Hope, or destruction?” The warrior takes off a hat to reveal a young woman, and it’s revealed that a little boy is tagging along and was providing the narration the whole time and adding the score with a flute.

The girl warrior is annoyed by him, and something blows out her torch. It was a dragon. It was announced that Canadian actress Cassie Steele provides the voice of the girl, whose name is Raya, and Awkwafina will voice Sisu the dragon, a white dragon with a blue and pink tail, not looking anything like the way dragons have traditionally been depicted in pop culture. It’s inspired by the water spirit of Southeast Asia.

The girl flies by, riding the rain drops, and she has a powerful gem in her possession. Sisu is first met in human form as an old woman, and she’s not the hero Raya was expecting. Raya must help the old woman become the dragon once again.

In a final clip, Raya’s father tells her that the last dragon gem holds all the powers and magic of the dragons: something that, in the right hands, could change the world. “I wish everyone could see this,” she says, and he responds, “Well, let’s show them.” Lastly, the phrase “Keep the light alive” appeared on screen.

Raya and the Last Dragon will arrive in theaters on Thanksgiving 2020.

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