Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)
Starring: Kelly Marie Tran, Benedict Wong, Awkwafina
Rating: PG for mild perilous action
A Broken World
In an ideal world, there is perfect peace and everyone gets what they want. But we are wicked creatures. We can’t seem to get along for any decent period of time without spiritual intervention. For believers this is a core doctrine: man is inherently evil and cannot produce anything good in his thoughts, words, or behaviors on his own initiative. As hard as it is to admit that we are naturally depraved creatures, it is imperative that we do so.
While we as Believers confess our evil and wicked hearts as the root of our difficulties in life, Disney (and the world!) seems fixated on the symptoms of the disease (discord, hatred, anger, fear, distrust, etc.) rather than the root problem. Disney’s new princess Raya from the world of Kumandra tackles those symptoms in the movie Raya and the Last Dragon and left me with several thoughts about the fight against evil and hatred. Let’s get into it.
Dragons, Droon, and Discord
Five hundred years ago there were dragons. They brought peace, water, and life to Kumandra and the people who dwelt there. Everyone lived in harmony and worshiped the dragons. But then came the great plague, Druun, that was reaped as the harvest from the sowing of human discord. Druun overcame the people and turned everyone to stone who was caught in its purple and black mists. It was left to the dragons to defeat the Druun and bring back all of Kumandra. Sisu, the last dragon, used the dragon jewel to permanently conquer the Druun and free the people of Kumandra. But the dragons were lost forever and Sisu was never seen again.
The people of Kumandra turned against each other when it was discovered that the dragons were turned to stone and the kingdom was split into five sections: Heart, Fang, Talon, Tail, and Spine (all named after body parts of the dragons they worshiped).
Now, four hundred and ninety-four years later, we meet Raya and her father who are guardians of the dragon jewel. While being the protector of the jewel, Chief Benja (Raya’s father) desires for Kumandra to be reunited and to become one people again. To promote his vision, Chief Benja invites all the leaders of the four other parts of Kumandra to come for a meal together in Heart. While all five groups are together, Raya befriends the princess of Fang, Namaari.
In an attempt to put forth a trusting attitude, Raya takes Namaari to see the dragon jewel. Namaari, however, shows her true colors and attempts to take the jewel along with warriors from Fang. Chief Benja discovers the subterfuge and comes to Raya’s aid as she defends the dragon jewel. However, in the fight, the dragon jewel is dropped and breaks into five pieces. Each leader grabs one piece as the old temple begins to fall apart. But as they continue to fight and argue, Druun comes up from the cracks in the earth inside the temple. Everyone flees the temple, but the Druun has returned and Kumandra is in greater peril than it was 500 years ago.
Six years after the dragon jewel is broken, we find Raya wandering the desert looking for Sisu, the last dragon. Sisu is the only hope for the dragon jewel to be recreated and for Kumandra to be made whole. But Raya must learn to trust her fellow Kumandrians in the most dangerous of situations before any good will come about.
Politically Correct Train Coming Through!
I was pleasantly surprised at how well Raya and the Last Dragon went. It’s not perfect by any means, and it won’t be my go-to Disney princess movie, but it was enjoyable, to say the least. That being said . . . this movie was very politically correct. I don’t have a problem with Asian characters, woman protagonists, etc. I do have a problem with what I made mention of at the beginning of this post: fixating on the symptoms rather than the root of a disease.
We are living in a tumultuous time. I think our current culture war has reflected into this movie with the theme of hatred, discord, and disunity. It’s definitely relatable, I will say that. As we follow Raya on her journey, we see her continually come upon opportunities for her growth in trusting other people. Ultimately, Raya and the Last Dragon seems to point to trust in and sacrificial love for our enemies. POTENTIAL SPOILER: Raya ends up sacrificing everything to show her trust in Namaari, who then sacrifices herself for the sake of Kumandra.
Trust does not win a culture war. It is certainly helpful when dealing with the aftermath and when attempting to rebuild a society, but during a war you cannot trust your enemy. Trusting your enemy is not necessarily the exact point here, but it is somewhat confusing given the nature of most of the movie’s content. On top of that, there is another interesting interpretation of what this “trust” means.
Before I get into that, I should say that learning to trust people is a GOOD lesson! The ramifications in this particular movie don’t necessarily fit with a true and workable outpouring of trust in a given society, but the lesson is still a good one. Children and adults alike can use this lesson! But back to my rant. 🙂
The second interpretation of the way trust is used in this film is to say that humans are naturally good. Yes, you heard me. And now you’re thinking, “Wait, Megan, don’t you remember what you said at the beginning of the review about this movie acknowledging that we are naturally divisive and evil creatures?” My answer is yes. Yes, I do remember. That is one of the best things about this movie! It acknowledges (although not in a Christian way) that we easily hurt our fellow men if it means getting what we want. But at the same time, it also claims that each person can be / is inwardly good. It’s a big contradiction and a major plot hole (the same that can be found in the terribly boring and disappointing book The Death Cure by James Dashner in the Maze Runner trilogy). While saying that the people of Kumandra are incapable of good without the presence of dragons, Raya is supposed to learn to trust the same people and their inner desire to be good while the dragons are still non-existent. All I can say is – what in the world?!
End of rant. 😉
For negative content, there were a few mentions of “butts” and “booties”, with one reference to a “dung pot”. There is a particular species of beetle called a “toot ‘n boom” and the name means exactly what it says. I’m pretty sure all the boys in the audience will be laughing. Overall, this movie was mostly clean and I was both surprised and greatly appreciative!
There is violence to a degree and it could be difficult for some very young viewers due to the fact that there is a lot of very hands-on, marshal-arts combat.. One dragon and one human are shot by cross-bolts, although we don’t see any wounds. The only other issue I had with the content is the rather scary Druun. Black and purple masses of spidery webb-y mists roll around like balls and are larger than humans. They engulf any human they come in contact with and turn them to stone. It’s actually somewhat disturbing and may keep younger audiences out of the theater.
There is a large amount of religious content in this movie. It is entirely centered around dragons and, as I mentioned previously, it is believed that the people of Kumandra are more capable of good (if not only capable of good) when the dragons are present and involved in society. That being said, there is a lot of dragon worship shown in the movie in the form of prayers and rituals and a sign made with the hands followed by a reverent bow.
One last point I have. While Raya is well-meaning in her journey to return Kumandra to its former glory and while she learns that she has her own flaws, it seems that Heart (the nation Raya is from) is the only portion of Kumandra out of the five divisions that is truly able to fix things. While each of the nations try in their own way to fix their own problems, each of the nations are painted in a violent and unpeaceable light while Heart seems to be given a position of authority and superiority. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this film, but that was just an impression that seemed to come across the screen.
To Watch or Not To Watch
I know this might shock you, but I actually would recommend this film. I always seem to say a lot of scathing, and rather harsh things about each movie I watch. It’s the movie-reviewer conscience that keeps popping up. 🙂 But even with what I mentioned, this was quite a clean movie! There is only a little bit of bathroom humor, no language, and should only be scary for those under the age of 10-12 (maybe even younger considering what some kids watch these days).
Looking back, I don’t think I’ve actually said I would recommend a movie since I reviewed Knives Out three months ago . . . I would take this and run with it, dear readers! 😉
I went to the theater with a good friend to enjoy a girl’s night out and watch the newest Disney princess movie. Will you be going to the theater? Or will you be streaming at home on Disney+? Or will you skip this movie altogether and leave me a recommendation for something better? Hit the comment section below and let me know what your thoughts are.
Unless the next Disney adventure! 🙂
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