A profound story with a modern message: Open your heart, give faith, and the world will be less intended.
It has gone way the images of Disney princesses in gorgeous dresses and happy endings getting the prince of their lives. The past decade has proven that Disney is increasingly exit from the old gender stereotypes that we often label princesses. At the beginning of the new decade, Disney released the movie Raya and The Last Dragon (Raya and the Last Dragon), introducing a new and culturally specific princess as a Southeast Asian princess the first of the "Disney Princess" series.
Going beyond an entertaining movie for children and families or a tribute to Southeast Asian culture, Raya and the Last Divine Dragon carried many humanistic messages about people's faith in dark times, especially through Raya's character's journey and the lessons she learned at the end of that journey.
Disney and the birth of the image of "badass princesses"
The history of Disney princesses has shown that there is a lot of variation in the way we see female protagonists in cartoons. From the beginning days, princesses were inherently beautiful girls with personal problems that needed to be resolved. And as the Ralph Breaks The Internet (2018) movie reflects itself, those problems were always solved by a prince. Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty Aurora, the three early princesses are prime examples of beauties who are not proactive in their stories. They always cry because of the circumstances, they are targeted by evil forces, and are finally saved by a prince.
That day, the only lesson was perhaps belief in the right, and in the good things, but inadvertently implanted in the children's heads a fairly common gender thought that still exists today: every princess needs one of his princes.
The element of "prince," or princess' lover, appeared in all of the Disney princess films from 1937 to 2010. In 2012, Pixar marked a major turning point with the release of Brave, introducing the shaggy-haired princess Merida. Going beyond the family tradition of marriage, Merida proved herself to be a brave girl, free as the clouds in the saddle and bow. She caused the incidents herself, and she also solved the problems herself in a movie where the male characters were just supporting.
Feminism has since become stronger and it's time for us to need a new generation of princesses who are not only beautiful, but also ready to take on great responsibilities and push the film forward on their own.
Although it was not too much attention, the birth of Merida was followed by a global phenomenon, a character we did not call "Princess", but called "Queen": Elsa in Frozen (2013). The sincere kiss between a man and a woman was completely abandoned when Disney not only gave strength and magic to the heroine, but also defined "true love" that could come from the feelings of people who loved each other in the family.
Frozen is not only a box office phenomenon but also the official beginning of the "badass princesses" of the Mouse House, whether they are new princesses like Moana (2016) or princesses "refinished" like Jasmine (2019) and Mulan (2020).
And Princess Raya in Disney's latest work, Raya and the Last Divine Dragon continues to be another "badass princess", if they are not the most "badass”.
Raya's Journey or Heroism's Journey?
In the film, Raya lived in the land of Kumandra, a place divided into five tribes by hatred, bigotry and selfishness. Right at the opening scene of the film, viewers knew that Raya was on a journey in a feminine costume: street dust, red cape, wide-brimmed hat and a sword.
She had to find Sisu, the last God Dragon, and collect four pieces of jade that have been captured by four other tribes to repel a threat that threatens the whole country. This journey of Raya was unlike any previous journey of Disney princesses in many ways, even with personalities like Elsa, Moana or Mulan.
The most obvious was the origin. Unlike Elsa, who was an heir to the throne of the queen of Arendelle, or Moana, who was chosen by the ocean to return the heart to the goddess Te Fiti, there was no force to push Raya to set off on the road, but she herself chose that journey.
She became a responsible and idealistic heroine, not because she had the noble birth of a princess, but simply because she was a child of Kumandra and of her father, patriarch Benja. This was quite similar to Mulan, but if Mulan embarked on a journey against her father's wishes, Raya gained salvation from the father she loved so much.
The image of Benja's father is also a very new feature. If the father image of the previous princesses was quite rigid, conservative and forbidden because of his love for his children, Benja is an East Asian father who always imparts knowledge about the world to his little daughter. Benja is selfless and arouses in Raya the belief in unity. Even when he was betrayed by four other tribes, facing tragedy, his last words for his daughter were still full of humanity: "Don't give them up."
From the above strokes, the portrait of Raya is depicted very uniquely. Martial arts learned from her father, carrying the sword and also her father's dream, she is the embodiment of heroism in times of turmoil, the longing for brighter days of man. As Benja puts it, in order for the world to become a better place, someone must be “courageously pioneering.” Raya is that person.
However, she lacks the most important piece of the puzzle from her father. No journey is without lessons for the traveler. That is the lesson Raya must learn at the end of the journey, and also the meaningful message that Disney sends to the audience: Open your heart, give faith, and the world will be less intended.
When skepticism and optimism go hand in hand
The tragedy of her country and her family gives Raya every incentive to be a hero, but alone hero. If Benja believed in the goodness of people, Raya lost that belief when it led to the ruin of her tribe. The deep traces of betrayal turn Raya into a cynicism, always believing that all human behavior is based on personal desires. "The world is a ruin, I can't trust anyone" is her declaration as she sets out to find her ultimate belief: the dragon god Sisu.
As the last god dragon of Kumandra, Sisu is also the embodiment of faith, of the undying faith in Raya's heart since childhood. But an unexpected episode occurs in the first half of the film: The Sisu that Raya finds is not as great as the legend has praised.
And as a true embodiment of faith, Sisu believes in the goodness of people. If Raya looks at the world through the lens of skepticism, anyone can harm her, no one is honest, Sisu sees the world as a bit rosy and Sisu always sees the good qualities of people. “Could it be that this world is falling apart because you don't trust anyone?” —this was probably the most interesting question Sisu asked Raya. The question clearly reflects the dragon's optimism for humanity.
The contrasting pairing of faith and belief creates a deep and powerful conflict in the film. Raya, who was a more experienced person, now had to take care of the god dragon who was still naive to the world. The god dragon seemed to have no power in his hands, but he taught Raya the greatest strength to save them: faith in people.
From there, the film leads the story into an interesting crisis that easily directs to the climactic third act: What happens if everything we believed most has gone forever? It forces us to give our faith on those who were once we thought that they were to be our enemies? Are we really each other's enemies or are we taught that we are each other's enemies?
To answer that question, the filmmakers planed an interesting iconic image that spans Raya's journey: cuisine. Southeast Asian food culture stretches back to the early footage when the patriarch Benja teaches Raya to be kind to people by treating them to food, that the best dishes are actually made from the best ingredients. Spices seem to be the hardest to mix.
Benja cooks a wonderful dish using 5 spices from 5 different races, and Raya's journey also includes people from different races. They are all victims of the ruined world, living in solitude and having to navigate every day to save themselves. They are taught to be enemies of each other, yet find harmony at the dinner table. Their solidarity mixed with the intersection of cuisine creates a unique picture of kindness, very genuine and not dogmatic.
Raya and the Last Dragon is an easy-to-read, absorbing story. Somewhere in the film are pieces and details we have met in the adventure and action genre, but with a solid script, mesmerizing images mixed with bold music combining East - West, the film told an epic, ambitious journey of Disney.
Not only succeeding in building a colorful Southeast Asian world, the film also introduces the image of the original heroine, imbued with the spirit and character of the world in the film, giving viewers a feeling of joy. absolutely believe in her journey.
Moreover, the film also brings a timely message, when the force that brought disaster to Kumandra is also likened to "a pandemic": we can blame each other, tear each other apart to become enemies last survivor. Or, together we can push back the darkness for a better future.
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