‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ Star Kelly Marie Tran Added 3 New Qualities to Raya After Cassie Steele Recasting

Kelly Marie Tran fans are excited to hear her voice coming from Disney’s newest animated hero. Tran plays Raya in Raya and the Last Dragon. She is relatively new to the film, since Cassie Steele was first cast as Raya. In August 2020, Disney announced Tran would voice the character and now the film’s writer and producer explain why. 

Raya and the Last Dragon
Raya (voice of Kelly Marie Tran) | Disney

Producer Osnat Shurer and co-writer Adele Lim spoke with Showbiz Cheat Sheet about Raya and the Last Dragon. We’ll have more with them and the rest of the Raya filmmakers here on Showbiz Cheat Sheet, but first they explained how the character changed and needed a new voice. 

Kelly Marie Tran brings 3 new qualities to Raya in ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’

Every animated movie takes years to come to fruition. Over the course of Raya and the Last Dragon, Raya herself evolved enough to necessitate a new voice. Shurer described the qualities Tran added to the character.

“One of the things that Kelly Marie brings to the table to Raya, as the character was evolving, we knew we wanted to sense her vulnerability more,” Shurer said. “Her warmth and her humor are things that Kelly Marie brings. Cassie’s a wonderful actress and I hope to work with her again in the future.”

Kelly Marie Tran in an orange dress
Kelly Marie Tran | Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images

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Of the three qualities, Shurer highlighted the warmth Tran brought to Raya.

“She’s one of the kindest people I’ve ever met,” Shurer said. “This warmth that she brings, no matter what line Adele or [co-writer] Qui [Nguyen] are writing for her, because there are some difficult moments for Raya, you always sense and feel that warmth that you want her to succeed always. I think that warmth with the strength is an incredibly unique balance that’s true to Kelly Marie. So I am thrilled with who Raya became.”

How the Cassie Steeele Raya was different from Kelly Marie Tran

The evolution of Raya was gradual. Now that the film is complete, looking back at the original character seemed quite different. 

Cassie Steele at D23
Cassie Steele | Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney

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“In the early version, she was much more of like the Lone Ranger, the lone gunman,” Lim said. “So there was this kind of steely coolness to her and that is not the Raya that we ended up with because again, as the story evolved and we realized that Raya couldn’t just be the one hero saving the world singlehandedly at the end of the day, she had to be the kind of person that pulls people together. That’s I think the main thrust of the evolution of that character.”

‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ was like most animated films in this way

Shurer was clear that this sort of evolution was not unique to Raya and the Last Dragon. The evolution was best for the movie. 

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I’ve been on the film for four years and this started way before I joined the film. We take a number of years to just keep evolving the characters, keep evolving the story and honing it down. We do screenings and storyboard screenings with all the other directors and writers at Disney. We sort of tear it apart. Things that don’t work go away, refine things and deepen them. So it’s an ever evolving process. You almost have to stop frame somewhere and see what we were. In the process, the character of Raya kept evolving.

Osnat Shurer, interview with Showbiz Cheat Sheet, 2/25/21