Raya and the last dragon arrives March 5 via the Disney + streaming platform, marking the first animated film to be produced almost entirely during the pandemic. The visually stunning film tells the story of warrior princess Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) and her quest to heal her kingdom of Kumandra.
Screenwriter Adele Lim and producer Osnat Shurer spoke with Screen Rant about the evolution their main character went through in creating the story, the inspirations they drew from, and what Tran brought to the role.
I know this movie has been in development for a long time, over six years. Why was Southeast Asia the inspiration for the story of Raya and the last dragon?
Osnat Shurer: We started talking about what is important to us, what is the message? You know, you’re going to live with this movie, so what’s important for us to say? And we think a lot about how he feels that our differences are being used as a dividing thing rather than coming together. It is the most important thing to say: we have to unite with who we are, because we are greater as a whole, as a community.
We had these five lands in this fantasy world arranged around this dragon river, and the dragon was the Asian dragon for us; dragon that is connected with water, life and harmony. We did our first research trip to some countries in Southeast Asia, and we are talking about 11 countries; multiple cultures, ethnicities and religions: this incredible multiplicity of cultures. However, everywhere we went, we were struck by the sense of community we found. Everyone is doing this together, regardless of their background, and they are not even trying to be the same; they are simply working together.
So we went back and said, “This is it.” Add to that all the beautiful inspiration itself, the architecture and the textiles and the food, that you may have seen appear in the movie. It was then that we started working with many experts from the region, and Adele joined us as a writer and Qui.
What were some of the key moments in developing Raya and the last dragon? Was there a specific story or inspiration that you drew inspiration from?
Adele Lim: No, Kumandra and the narration we came up with were completely original. So even though Southeast Asia has this incredible tradition of strong female warriors and strong female leaders, there was no specific myth or person that we used as a central inspiration. I’ll say it’s that collective girly kicking spirit though, and if you have Southeast Asian friends with Asian mothers and Southeast Asian aunts, they will tell you how strong they are and how influential they are in their lives. .
In terms of touchstone moments, within the film, you can follow Raya’s arc through his relationship with food and people. Whether her father shares her dream and tries to open up her world and cook her soup, or when you see her as an adult, and she’s broken and disillusioned, and she’s just chewing on her jerky because she doesn’t trust anyone. And then she meets all these people who she thinks are the enemy, but the dragon inspires her to open her heart like that and keep trying. And then he manages to share a meal with them.
That food item, which, again, is visually stunning and very true to culture, is also this metaphor for this arc of trust and mistrust and union.
Can you tell me about the process and challenges of merging mythological dragons and warring factions along with environmental issues and a pretty relevant story about trust in people?
Adele Lim: Like you said, it was difficult and these movies take a long time to get right. We had eight screenings that you put on and take off to see what works and what doesn’t.
I think at the end of the day, what we realized is that Kumara is a completely fictional land, and Raya is a fictional character on this journey. But we wanted the problems on this earth to reflect the problems of our world that we see around us today. And that, for Raya, what she faces is what we face. And their solution is also a very realistic solution that is based on authenticity. We know what it’s like to live in a divided land and how difficult it is to bring people together.
With his effort, he believes that he will try to awaken the mystical and powerful dragon that will solve all the problems of the world. She learns that the dragon is not going to do all that for her. It’s quirky, unconventional; but the Dragon has a deeper wisdom. And that’s the metaphor of finding our best, and also that this act of trust and this act of unity is not easy. They will break your heart, you will lose everything that is dear and close to you, they will beat you over and over again.
And still, Raya is the hero because she’s the one who stands up and says, “Even right now, when I have no reason to trust this other person, I’m going to show myself trustworthy and I’m going to reach out because I hope you understand. that the only way we’re going to get through this world is together. “
It struck me that both the protagonist and the antagonist are strong female characters. Can you talk about the meaning of that? Was that something that was planned from the beginning of The last dragon?
Osnat Shurer: I can talk a bit about that. It is planned from the beginning in any story that I am involved in, that has female heroes, who will be imperfect, interesting and strong because we want to see ourselves on the screen. But really, we had Raya as a character, and we decided early on that we wanted the dragon to be a female. It was connected much more directly for us with this bringing life, harmony and rain that the dragon brings.
Now we know that we have a central relationship in the movie, which is a friendship between two female characters. This shouldn’t be radical, but on the global screen it is. And then the character of Namaari and her power, and how she and Raya are a reflection of each other in that love-hate thing they have between them.
I think this leads me to your earlier question about other movie touchstones as well. Adele and I would talk about this – there really aren’t any for us to use. There are very few occasions when these interesting female relationships are explored on screen. We didn’t set out to do that, but the characters became themselves and demanded what they demanded.
Much of Raya was built during the pandemic, in self-isolation. Can you tell me about that process and what you learned that you are going to undertake in other projects?
Osnat Shurer: We went into lockdown just as we started to increase production. Literally, if you had asked me before that happened, “Can we make a movie like this?” I would have said, “Of course not. You’re crazy.” And we did it.
There were technological problems, but they were resolved fairly quickly. There were some social issues that we had to deal with ourselves, because we like to be in a room together and build on each other’s ideas. It feels more creative that way; we can eat, chat and meet, and there is none of that in the zoom.
But I think there were some things that we learned that we would like to take forward because of that. Part of this is that we created a very structured day, we were very disciplined, we finished at a certain time and had dinner with our families. We never do that in the last year of production. But you have to, you can’t work like this for too many hours. And that created a level of delegation and trust that we have never experienced before, or experienced before. You talk to the animators and people when they come out of the movie, and they say they did the best job they ever did because they were trusted to do it. That, we want to move forward.
Kelly Marie Tran is amazing in this movie. What did you bring to the role of Raya that really helped that character develop fully?
Adele Lim: That’s a great question. We had this idea from Raya in the beginning, and she really went through this tremendous evolution. I think at first, she was much more of a lone warrior; very gloomy, stoic and embittered by this broken world. Intellectually it’s a great idea, but when you see that character on screen, you think, “I’m not connecting with that character that much.”
We tried to give it more shape, but really, it was only when Kelly Marie Tran walked into the recording booth and read the lines. [that it] It really brought life, warmth and cuteness to the character. One of the first things she read was that prayer that the adult Raya says, trying to summon the dragon because she wants to bring her father back. When Kelly read it, it got to this point really emotionally vulnerable, and you could feel that love and feel that desperation and seriousness. We think, That! And the directors, these grown men, they were just a puddle. We knew it was something powerful that we wanted to lean on a lot more.
Really, Kelly Marie is the reason you have this wonderful, fully dimensional, developed and warm character that you can feel and touch, and that you feel is real.
Next: Kelly Marie Tran Interview for Raya and the Last Dragon
- Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)Release Date: Mar 05, 2021
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