Raya and the Last Dragon originally planned for Cassie Steele to voice the lead warrior princess. Here’s why she was replaced by Kelly Marie Tran.
Kelly Marie Tran voices the lead role in Disney’s animated movie Raya and the Last Dragon, but here’s why she replaced Cassie Steele late in production. Originally set for a theatrical release in 2020, Raya and the Last Dragon arrived simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ in March 2021. The movie introduced audiences to a brand new world and stunning animation which featured the first Asian Disney princess.
Raya and the Last Dragon follows Raya’s journey to find the last dragon in the hope that she can reverse the actions of the Druun. Kelly Marie Tran plays the lead role of Raya and took on the Disney animated role after appearing in Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. The movie’s cast also includes Daniel Dae Kim as Raya’s father, Gemma Chan as Namaari, and Awkwafina as Sisu, with Sandra Oh, Alan Tudyk, Benedict Wong, and others also lending their voices to different roles. However, Raya and the Last Dragon originally included Cassie Steele.
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When Disney first started working on Raya and the Last Dragon, Cassie Steele was cast in the lead role. The actress is best known for her role as Manny Santos in Degrassi: The Next Generation and was originally envisioned to be the voice of Raya. This changed in late 2020, though, when it was announced that Cassie Steele had been replaced by Kelly Marie Tran. The announcement came after the release of Raya and the Last Dragon was pushed to 2021, but the delay isn’t what caused the recasting. Instead, it had to do with Raya’s character changing as production went along.
The reasoning for Kelly Marie Tran replacing Cassie Steele as Raya’s voice was attributed to how much aspects of the movie shifted during production and post-production. Raya and the Last Dragon producer Osnat Shurer told CinemaBlend that Steele was a perfect fit for Raya when the project began. As the movie and Raya continued to change, though, they felt it was best for a new actress to take on the role. Shurer praised Kelly Marie Tran’s ability to be funny, strong, warm, and vulnerable as Raya. While that’s not an indictment of Steele’s ability to do the same, Shurer noted that it was the type of creative change that often occurs on projects.
It is undoubtedly disappointing for Steele to miss out on playing Raya. Voicing the lead role in a major Disney animated movie would’ve been a huge role for her to take on, which could’ve opened up more doors for her career. That said, Kelly Marie Tran’s performance of the princess in Raya and the Last Dragon is one of the film’s strongest qualities. She delivered terrific work and proved to be an excellent choice to voice the skilled warrior.
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