Earlier this week, it was announced that next March’s Disney movie Raya and the Last Dragon had been recast with a new lead voice. Some 13 months after Cassie Steele and Awkwafina were announced as the stars of the flick at D23 Expo, Star Wars saga actress Kelly Marie Tran was announced as Steele’s replacement.
We’re just three months from the original release date of November 25.
If this all sounds a little last minute, it is. Disney has recast their voice actors before, but these changes were made years in advance. And certainly, without the public splash of a room seating 6800 and millions of people intently following Disney’s announcements at home.
It’s so late, you can easily imagine a Chinese freighter captain receiving a text message to turn his ship around, because the 100,000 talking dolls on board have the wrong voice. (On a more serious note, you have to wonder whether Chronicle Books will have to pulp their print run of The Art of Raya and the Last Dragon.)
While we don’t know what caused the recast, let’s take a look at some of the other changes were made to the casts of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, and Mulan, and we debunk one often cited rumor about Pocahontas.
Gargoyles Just Want To Have Fun
Quasimodo’s gargoyle friends, Victor, Hugo, and Laverne, weren’t always Charles Kimborough, Jason Alexander, and Mary Wickes. The Hunchback of Notre Dame initially hired a young woman and a different sitcom actor for two of the characters.
“True Colors” singer Cyndi Lauper thought that she had been cast as Esmeralda, only to find out that she was one of the statues. Sam McMurray (The Tracy Ullman Show) was also cast as a gargoyle. After a few recording sessions, the directors decided that it wasn’t the material itself that was falling flat, the characters were simply miscast.
It’s said that Lauper had pursued being a Disney voice for over a decade, and was heartbroken.
Third Rock from the Underworld
Hercules villain Hades, Lord of the Dead could have been someone other than James Woods.
Academy Award-winning actor John Lithgow was hired in autumn 1994. But according to Disney historian Jim Hill, “there was no real humor or menace to John’s version of the Lord of the Underworld. The character just came across as … well … a hammy actor.” Nine months in, he was released from the project, and went on to sitcom stardom with Third Rock from the Sun.
This recast came 20 months before the film’s release.
They weren’t able to make a man out of her
Lea Salonga had already provided the singing voice of Aladdin‘s Jasmine, when she was cast as Mulan’s speaking and singing voices. But try as she might to voice “Ping”, her attempt at a tenor was unsuccessful. The Joy Luck Club narrator Ming-Na Wen was hired to take over the role, with Salonga remaining as the singing voice.
Rumors had it: debunking the Pocahontas recasts
Seemingly hundreds of sources online claim that Richard White (Gaston, Beauty and the Beast) had been cast as Governor Ratcliffe in Pocahontas. The crew got cold feet, and replaced him with David Ogden Stiers. According to the stories, Stiers had originally been cast as Wiggins.
In an official “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit in 2016, organized to promote the 25th anniversary of the film, White debunked that myth.
A similar amount of questionable sources claim that Gregory Peck had been cast as “Old Man River”, the precursor to Grandmother Willow. He backed out, thinking that a maternal figure would better suit the story. The film did include a song called “The Middle of the River”, but none of the period press coverage on newspapers.com makes any reference to what would have been a major casting win for the studio.
What do you think of the Raya recasting?
Hannah E. Trotter, “10 Things You Never Knew About Disney’s Pocahontas“, Yahoo! Voices, July 5, 2011. Jim Hill, “The Greatest Performances You Never Got to Hear“, Laughing Place, April 5, 2001. Oliver Mouroux, “Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame“, Animated Views, 1999-2003. Thomas S. Hischak “Salonga, Lea” Disney Voice Actors: A biographical dictionary, McFarland, 2011, pg 186.