Elsa, Ralph, and Moana are getting some new company at Walt Disney Animation.
The animation studio has finally announced the long-awaited next film on its post-Frozen slate: Raya and the Last Dragon, an original animated feature that will star Awkwafina (as Susi the Dragon) and Cassie Steele (as Raya). Disney Animation chief creative officer Jennifer Lee made the announcement at Disney’s biennial fan expo D23 Expo on Saturday.
Produced by Moana veteran Osnat Shurer and written by Crazy Rich Asians scribe Adele Lim, Raya and the Last Dragon is directed by Frozen and Big Hero 6 head of story Paul Briggs and story artist/Tick Tock Tale creator Dean Wellins, who introduced the new Southeast Asian-inspired original to the crowd.
The movie takes place in the fictional Kumandra, “a reimagined earth inhabited by an ancient civilization that venerated the mythical dragons for their power and their wisdom,” Shurer described. “It’s inspired by Southeast Asia, both in its themes of community and hope, and in its design.” Kumandra’s five distinct clans form the Land of the Dragon, but dragons are long gone and Kumandra has since been invaded by a “dark, sinister force.”
Raya is the hero, a lone warrior on a quest to save her world, determined to find the last dragon who she believes has the power to save Kumandra. “In addition to being able to swing that sword like a 5-star badass, there is a winning charm about her,” said an exuberant Lim.
Footage shown at the presentation displayed a fierce Raya treading through a rainy forest, approaching an ancient temple, entering a dark passageway filled with dragon carvings—and being trailed by her narrating, flute-playing, presumably annoying little brother. The clip culminated in the siblings coming face to face with Sisu, a pink-and-teal dragon who also takes the form of a human.
On the Expo stage, Awkwafina and Steele arrived to elaborate a little on their new Disney heroes Sisu and Raya (the former of whom Awkwafina called “splendiferous”). “Raya is ready to meet a magical water being who breathes fog through her nose, flies by riding the raindrops, and has a gem that channels this amazing huge power,” says Steele. But there is a catch to Sisu: “When Raya first meets [her], she’s in human form and needs Raya’s help to reclaim her power to become her true dragon self.”
Along their journey, Raya and Sisu encounter a band of misfits from each of Kumandra’s five clans, ultimately becoming a family and honoring, as Lim says, the film’s grand theme: “At its heart, our movie is about the transformative power of community and having hope even in the face of overwhelming darkness.” (The crowd cheered.)
Steele is best known to audiences for her teenage tenure on the Canadian staple, Degrassi: The Next Generation. Meanwhile, Awkwafina continues to fill her Disney dance card in record time, adding Raya to her list of upcoming projects with the studio that includes Marvel’s 2021 film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings as well as Rob Marshall’s live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, which begins production next year.
Raya is slated to arrive in theaters on Nov. 25, 2020.