“My whole life, I trained to become a guardian of the Dragon Gem. But this world has changed, and its people are divided. Now, to restore peace, I must find the Last Dragon.”
Raya is the titular protagonist of Disney's 2021 animated feature film Raya and the Last Dragon. The daughter of Chief Benja, she is the princess of Kumandra's Heart Land. In her youth, Raya was appointed the Guardian of the Dragon Gem. When the Gem is broken, a plague known as the Druun is unleashed upon the world, turning much of humanity into stone—including Benja. To save her father, Raya embarked on a quest to retrieve the Gem pieces and use its power to vanquish the Druun for good.
Raya is a proud Guardian of the Dragon Gem, a title she holds alongside her beloved father Benja, the Chief of the Heart Lands. Her world is turned upside down when the Gem is broken, and her father is turned to stone. Now on a mission to save the world, she’s grown up to be a resilient warrior whose wit is as sharp as her blade.
Raya is a headstrong young woman who is mature and wisened for someone her age. She is a very capable person and is shown to easily adapt to situations around her. Despite her maturity, she retains a sense of humor and occasionally shows a bit of playfulness when such a moment presents itself. She deeply cares for her father and has a strong emotional attachment to certain people she considers her friends. Her biggest flaw is her inability to trust others. Except for Sisu, many of her new allies are immediately deemed suspicious or sinister in her eyes. Over time, she learns to overcome these issues and can see when someone is truly good. Raya is a very focused individual and is determined to see things through to the end.
Raya is an 18-year-old Southeast Asian girl of average height with a slender, slightly muscular build, tan skin, long black hair, and dark brown eyes. She usually wears a yellow shirt, a brown vest, a brown belt, olive green jeans with light green stripes, dark brown boots with maroon cuffs, a red cape with a thin turquoise stripe, and a yellow necklace around her neck, and a salakot on her head. She also wears a blue band above her elbow and a thick brown wristband on her right arm.
Master Hand-to-Hand Combatant/Martial Artist: Raya was practicing her sword fighting all by herself in those six years, she didn’t get to practise using blades until she got her first sword, given by Chief Benja.
Weapons and Equipment
Kali Sticks: In Raya's youth, she used these for training. They were also her primary weapon at the time.
Whip Sword: Raya's primary weapon as an adult that belonged to her father, Chief Benja. She uses it like a typical bladed weapon, but the blade can detatch in a long-bladed string that she uses to grab and attack from afar. It can also be used as a grappling hook.
Additionally, Raya's mode of transport is a giant pill bug and pug and armadillo-like creature named Tuk Tuk, who can travel at intense speeds.
Role in the film
Raya first appears in her youth, tested by her father for the role of the Guardian of the Dragon Gem, which gives the powers of Sisu and protects Heart from the Druun. She successfully passes and earns the title. Chief Benja invites the Tail, Talon, Spine, and Fang Lands to join in a feast. During the party, Raya befriends Princess Namaari of the Fang Land. They immediately bond and form a close friendship due to their shared interest in dragons. Namaari gives Raya a dragon-shaped pendant. In return, Raya reveals to Namaari the hidden location of the Dragon Gem, only to be ultimately betrayed by her. The other nations soon arrive at their location and fight over the orb. As a result, the Dragon Gem is shattered into five broken pieces and awakens the Druun. During the evacuation, Raya has trouble carrying her injured father to safety. Knowing they won't make it, Benja sacrifices himself to give Raya a piece of the orb and throws her off the bridge into the river below. As she falls, Raya is forced to watch her father get turned into a stone statue by the devouring plague and can only scream as the current drifts her away.
Six years later, Raya is venturing across the Tail Land, hoping to find Sisu, the last living dragon who can help her save Kumandra and restore her father. After searching from river to river, Raya comes across an old shipwreck at the very end of the land. She places offerings and succeeds in awakening the water dragon from her long slumber. Sisu agrees to help her find the remaining pieces of the Dragon Gem. Raya and Sisu travel on Tuk Tuk to the home of the Tail Land’s chief. Raya successfully avoids all the traps placed within and carefully removes a gem piece from the remains of the chief, who died to her own traps. Namaari arrives with her army, and the trio quickly escapes to a boat called "The Shrimporium", owned by a boy named Boun. The group then heads to the Talon Land.
Arriving at Talon, Raya encounters a "con-baby" named Noi and her Ongis, who steal the gem fragments. She chases the thieves throughout the market and eventually catches up to them. With their help, Raya is able to infiltrate the home of Talon’s chief, Dang Hu. She accidentally mistakes him for another person and finds out he is already long gone, with a new chief in his place. The new chief tricks Sisu to be stuck with the Drunn if she does not reveal the location of the other Dragon Gem pieces. Raya arrives on the scene, snatches a gem piece from the chief, and rescues Sisu. They returned to Boun’s boat with Noi and her Onjis and headed to the Spine Land.
At the Spine Land, Raya and Sisu are captured by a formidable giant named Tong, the lone survivor of his people. When Namaari and her army arrive at the front gates, Raya pleads with Tong to take her friends to safety while she buys them time with the enemies. Her friends follow the plan while she fights Namaari. The Fang princess gains the upper hand during the fight and is about to finish Raya until Sisu jumps in and saves her life.
Raya finally reveals Sisu's secret to her friends back on the boat, and they agree to work together to get the final piece of the Dragon Gem from the Fang Land. Raya originally plans for the team to sneakily infiltrate the kingdom, but she is persuaded to follow Sisu's plan of befriending Namaari. She decides to return Namaari's pendant as a gift and tells her to secretly meet her in the forest via letter. For the night, Raya shares a meal with all of her friends.
The next morning, Namaari meets with Raya as promised and presents the final piece of the Dragon Gem, but is betrayed again when her old friend pulls out a crossbow. Raya is unable to stop Namaari from firing an arrow at Sisu, killing her. Blinded by rage, Raya heads to Fang alone and confronts Namaari. Upon defeating her, Raya realizes her rage and lack of trust caused chaos in Kumandra and Sisu's death. Instead, she spares Namaari's life and left to help her friends evacuate Fang's citizens away from the Druun. With the gem's pieces starting to lose power and the Druun spreading closer, Raya decides to take the first step. She gives her gem piece to Namaari and turns into stone. Her friends do the same and turn into stone beside Raya. Namaari makes a choice to put all the pieces together before becoming petrified as well. After the Dragon Gem regains its power, Raya and all the infected victims are brought back to life. With Sisu and the dragons restored to Kumandra, Raya hugs her friends before returning home.
Arriving back at the Heart Land, Raya reunites with her father, and the two celebrate with the other nations, as Kumandra is united again.
Former Degrassi: The Next Generation actress Cassie Steele was originally cast as the voice of Raya, but it was announced on August 27, 2020, that she would be replaced by Kelly Marie Tran. Reasons as to why this change was because the recasting was due to creative shifts in the character and story itself.
Raya's fighting style is based primarily on the Indonesian martial art style of Pencak Silat while her fighting style using two sticks is based on the Filipino martial art of Kali, also known as Arnis or Eskrima.
Raya's whip sword is inspired by the keris, a distinctive, asymmetrical dagger originated from Indonesia.
Raya, for the majority of the film, seems to suffer from pistanthrophobia, the fear of trusting others. It is through Sisu that she learns to overcome this.
Raya is left-handed.
Raya is among the few Disney characters to be voiced by the same voice actor both as an adult and as a child.
While recording her dialogue, Kelly Marie Tran personally interpreted Raya and Namaari's relationship as romantic. By Tran's own admission, however, this was not made official by Disney.
Some of Raya's character was inspired by the Marvel Comics character Star-Lord because he was the only superhero that had any of the nuance that could fit Raya and the filmmakers could not find a female superhero with any of those qualities.
Raya means "to celebrate" in both Malay and Indonesian.
Raya's quote "Here’s the sitch…" in the beginning of the film is a nod to Kim Possible's catchphrase.
Even though her film is not a musical, Raya was seen singing at the beginning of her film, chanting a prayer to summon Sisu.