Long a symbol of power, strength, and luck, dragons serve an even greater purpose in Raya And The Last Dragon; they save humanity. Viewers who imagine dragons like those they’ve seen Harry Potter or Game of Thrones, however, will encounter a creature who is very different in Raya.
“It was so exciting to be able to celebrate the Eastern dragon,” says screenwriter Adele Lim. “We realized that this was something that most of the world was not familiar with.” Raya includes nagas, ancient water deities, who are part of many Southeast Asian cultures. “It’s very different from the Western dragon that’s winged and fire breathing, and something you have to destroy and take down.”
Nagas are typically wingless, four-legged creatures of great intelligence. The zany dragon Sisu, voiced by Awkwafina, is introduced as someone who is both vulnerable and insecure. “There is a hidden wisdom underlying all of it,” according to Lim. “That humor comes from a place of seeing the best in people, the best in Raya, the best in the people that Raya thought were her enemies, in all these people who you think have let you down and betrayed you.”
The filmmakers were excited to bring the Eastern dragon to Western audiences. “I always equate it to the Arthurian legend or “Dungeons and Dragons, these Western fantasies based on a mishmash of Western cultures,” says screenwriter Qui Nguyen. “This is our chance to create our Excalibur and our Arthurian legend… To make legendary heroes that our kids can aspire to.”
The decision to make Sisu a female was made early in the production. “Thinking about the dragon that brings water and life, and means harmony and auspiciousness and the growth of life, it seemed natural to us to have her a female,” says producer Osnat Shurer.
“At the heart of our movie is this beautiful friendship between Raya and Sisu,” according to Lim. “It’s so rare that we get a major Hollywood movie with this special female friendship at the heart of it.”
Shurer agrees. “We were also super excited about exploring that friendship… Everybody just embraced it, especially when we cast Awkwafina.”
As for the voice of Sisu, Awkwafina truly relates to her character when she’s in non-dragon form. “When I first saw the human version of Sisu, I was like, okay, all right, that’s me.”
You can check out Sisu for yourself in Raya and the Last Dragon, in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access now.