‘Raya and the Last Dragon’: Is Raya a Disney Princess?

Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) leads the latest Disney animated movie Raya and the Last Dragon. The land of Kumandra split into five kingdoms, and the dragon gem that protects them splits into five pieces, too. Raya is seeking the five pieces to save Kumandra. Does that make Raya and the Last Dragon a Disney princess movie or not?

Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina voice Raya and Sisu
Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) and Sisu (Awkwafina) | Disney

Producer Osnat Shurer and co-writer Adele Lim spoke with Showbiz Cheat Sheet about Raya and the Last Dragon, which is now in theaters and on Disney+ with Premium Access. They discussed their own debates over whether or not Raya is a Disney princess.

It wasn’t clear at first that Raya was a Disney princess

Lim, who co-wrote Raya and the Last Dragon with Qui Nguyen, confirmed that the creators of the film debated Raya’s royalty. She is the heroine. She doesn’t sing like Belle or Jasmine, but Raya is a Disney princess.

Raya and the Last Dragon fight pose
Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) in action | Disney

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“We had a lot of conversations of is she a princess, is she not a princess?” Lim said. “She’s definitely a warrior. We decided on princess because of the feeling of leadership, that she was brought up to be a leader and she takes on that mantle of leadership happily. For that to be the inspiration for a lot of young kids watching this movie, that her sex is never used as an obstacle or as a drawback, that it’s just a given in this land was also something that was particularly inspiring for us.

Where is Raya the Disney princess from?

Kumandra is a fictional region, but inspired by Asian cultures. While Raya does not correspond to any real-life ethnicity, Lim said she follows the tradition of Hong Kong action heroes. 

Raya and Namaari face off in the forest
L-R: Raya and Namaari | Disney

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First of all, I grew up with a lot of Hong Kong action movies where you see the women in them are tremendous. Whether they’re the girlfriend or the villain, they can still whip out the sword and knock your butt down. And also, I was so excited that the filmmakers decided to focus on southeast Asia as a central inspiration. What not a lot of people know about the region is we have a great history of strong female warriors and leaders. If you talk to any of your friends who have southeast Asian moms, they’ll tell you exactly how strong and scary those women can be. So we wanted Raya, and the women of the movie, to really embody that spirit.

Adele Lim, interview with Showbiz Cheat Sheet, 2/25/21

Casting Asian actors 

Joining Tran are Awkwafina as the voice of Sisu, the last dragon, Daniel Dae Kim as Raya’s father, Chief Benja, and Gemma Chan and Sandra Oh as women of the Fang kingdom. 

“We are open in casting always, but it’s not actually easy to cast animated roles because you don’t have the use of your body and the eye and expressions,” Shurer said. “It’s all about voice and not every actor has a voice that can carry an anim[ated movie]. Some amazing actors just don’t have a voice for it. So yes and we’re looking for very specific things as we flesh out the characters. We met people, we auditioned a lot and we talked to a lot of people. We also gave them the same level of attention that we give everything, very detail oriented.”