When the rumblings for the project that would become Raya and the Last Dragon first began at Disney roughly five years ago, producer Osnat Shurer (Moana) was brought on board to spearhead the House of Mouse’s next animated epic. The general ideas were there: a fantasy world based around the Asian dragon, usually a symbol of water and harmony, and a “kick-ass warrior” to lead the adventure. And Shurer knew just who to call about these ideas: Crazy Rich Asians writer Adele Lim.
“When she called me, she was just like, ‘Asian, kick-ass warrior, dragon,'” Lim recalled to /Film in an interview during a Raya and the Last Dragon early press day. “I’m like, ‘done.'”
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Raya and the Last Dragon came together under unusual circumstances. Completed during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the team of hundreds of animators, directors, writers, and actors had to work on the Disney fantasy-adventure epic from home and had to trust in one another — a bond that would spill over into the film itself. Raya and the Last Dragon is about “learning to trust” in others, directors Don Hall and Carlos Lopez Estrada said during the early press day for Raya and the Last Dragon. And that couldn’t be more fitting, considering the unusual way it (almost miraculously) came together.
Animators had to work on scenes while balancing pets and kids on their knees, voice actors had to install recording studios out of their closets, and the directors and writers had to gather this all together while building a rich, culturally-authentic world with the film’s team of consultants, including the Southeast Asia Story Trust.
“It’s a story about trust, and it’s a story about people doing what’s needed to come together,” producer Osnat Shurer said during the press day Q&A.
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To fans of a certain beloved Nickelodeon animated series, Raya and the Last Dragon may look oddly familiar. A younger version of the Disney film’s main character Raya (voiced by Kelly-Marie Tran) bears an uncanny resemblance to the character of Katara in Avatar: The Last Airbender, right down to the hairstyle and blue tunic. Her adorable Pill bug-esque sidekick wouldn’t look out of place in the world of that show, either. And similarly to the four nations of the Nickelodeon series, Raya‘s fictional world of Kumandra is divided into five lands: Fang, Heart, Talon, Spine, and Tail.
And the folks who made the movie are more than happy to embrace the comparison.
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