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Why Raya And The Last Dragon's Sisu Isn't Like Any Dragon We've Seen Before

Many fantasy universes sport dragons, and despite supposedly being rare sights that evoke fear and awe in their own worlds, dragons have become almost trite because they usually follow the same blueprint. If a dragon is featured in a show, movie, or video game, it almost always is a giant, fire breathing force of destruction with a long neck, horns, four legs, wings, and a tail. Familiarity can breed indifference, but you don't have to worry about that with Raya and the Last Dragon's decidedly worm-like wyrm.

As you have probably guessed, Raya and the Last Dragon's team gathered numerous influences to produce their own fantasy world (that has more than a few connections to Avatar: The Last Airbender). Everything from the movie's martial arts to its main character draw from Asian lore and real life, and yes, Raya and the Last Dragon's titular last dragon Sisu also took several sips from that particular well of inspiration. Because of these influences, Sisu is unlike virtually every pop culture dragon seen before. And, thanks to a recent virtual press conference — overseen by Emmy-winning TV host Jeannie Mai — that Looper attended, we have the lowdown on the who, what, when, where, and why that are Sisu's inspirations.

If it looks and sounds like a Naga, it's a Dragon

During the Raya and the Last Dragon press conference, the movie's screenwriter Adele Lim and producer Osnat Shurer fielded nagging questions, including those surrounding Sisu. If she's a dragon, where's her wings, fire breath, and kleptomania? Apparently, Lim wanted to create something considered a dragon that goes against common knowledge.

According to Lim, Sisu takes after the Southeast Asian dragon known as a Naga, which are "auspicious" deities tied to the element of water. Not only does this contradict everything the average moviegoer thinks they know about dragons, Sisu fittingly also defies what the movie's characters think they know about dragons, as well.

"It's very different from the Western dragon that's wing, they've fire-breathing. Something that you have to destroy, take down," explained Lim. "We also love the symbology in our movie because Raya thinks that she's going to bring forth this water dragon who's going to snap her finger and just solve all the problems in the world. Instead, what she finds is this zany, odd, big, crazy creature voiced by Awkwafina."

Shurer also pitched in regarding the decision to make Sisu female. According to her, that choice was made early into the movie's development to reflect Sisu's ability to create "water and life," as well as to help explore the friendship between Raya and Sisu. As Shurer put it, "You just don't get to see enough of that."