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Movie Review: Raya and the Last Dragon

Five Stars. I haven’t been this excited about Disney since Frozen (the first one) came out back in 2013. And I hope Raya and the Last Dragon goes the way of Frozen in terms of popularity. Before I gush on about why I love Raya, let me go over two minor factors I wished was different. Before you proceed: Spoiler Alerts!!

Music

We all miss the Disney musical magic when it hits the right spot with songs. I can imagine how awesome it would be if it was a full blown musical with sounds of traditional Southeast Asian instruments such as gamelan, angklung, kendang (the list goes on because there is so many) mixed with the modern orchestrations of James Newton Howard.

Ending

Everyone that was altered by the Druun (a form of negative energy that turns living beings into stone) returned back to their original form in the end. Okay, so we probably saw this coming, being a Disney children movie and all that, but it’s cliché. Every one comes back to life? We know that’s not what happens in reality. I mean, so far not one person I know that has died has ever managed to come back to life, no matter how much I decide to trust other people…I guess once you have experienced death, your outlook on everything changes (read about my discussion on coping with grief). One might argue it’s a children movie, but children face death, grief, and loss just as much as adults do.

One might argue it’s a children movie, but children face death, grief, and loss just as much as adults do.

That’s it. Now moving on the the reasons why I cried buckets until my eyes were swollen afterwards.

Southeast Asian Culture

As an Indonesian, I know the richness of the culture in this area of the world. It’s one of the hotspots of cultural diversity, and I have always wondered when Disney would create something from Southeast Asia folklores. FINALLY, it does so with a bang in Raya and the Last Dragon. I loved all the little cultural details they depicted, like taking off shoes as a sign of respect, soup which looks like tom-yum (my favorite Thai soup), Tuk-Tuk (a term for a vehicle which is a cross between a motorcycle and a car), even the con baby. Yes, they use con babies here to beg money from you in the streets. It’s a sad but true sign of the large socio-economic disparity you can see everyday on our streets.

My favorite cultural detail was how they incorporated wordless gestures as a sign of respect. When Namaari passed the garden of the stone dragons in worshipful silence and showed the statues the circle hand gesture of respect – gorgeous.

Female Power

There was no trope gender issues like in the recent Mulan. The females here were skilled, trained, and powerful. There were no problems that the Chief of Fang was a woman, nor that Raya was to be the next Chief of Heart after her father. Cute old Grandma was the meanest mafia boss Talon had ever seen, and of course, baby Noi steals the show!

Humor and Richness of Emotions

So much joyful humor, especially from the dragon Sisu as voiced by Awkwafina. The young entrepreneur (boatpreneur?) Boun was also a lovingly hilarious treat. His character shows the optimistic, youthful entrepreneurial spirit that exists all across Southeast Asia.

The emotional intensity of Raya and the Last Dragon lays in trust and betrayal of that trust. Everyone who has ever been betrayed or stabbed in the back will understand Raya’s internal struggle.

Sense of Wonder

What cemented this movie for me was Namaari’s love and sense of wonder for the dragons. That look on her face when she saw Sisu for the first time-I know that look. It’s the look on my face when I dive and see a mola-mola (the elusive sunfish) for the first time, or when a whaleshark suddenly appears in the deep blue.

Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.

Rumi

Disney hit this on the nail. In the midst of brokenness, there is astonishing unexplainable beauty for those who still seek it.

Have you seen Raya and the Last Dragon? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

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Movie Review: Radioactive (2020)

“I have suffered much more from a lack of resources and funds, than I ever did from being a woman,” says Marie Curie in the 2020 retelling of her life: Radioactive. Directed by Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) with Rosamund Pike as the brilliant scientist, this movie aims to be an inspiration to young girls.

How is Radioactive inspiring young girls?

Marie Curie’s life is already an inspiration; 2 Nobel prizes in the field of physics and chemistry. Satrapi adds into this her bold directing vision: cutting and lurching to scenes in the future which are completely unrelated to the plot. Right after Marie Curie announces their discovery of two new elements-radium and polonium-the scene launches to a doctor in Cleveland, Ohio, explaining a new medical treatment for cancer called radiation. At one of the most heart-wrenching moments of Pike’s acting, the scene cuts to the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown of 1986.

Some movie lovers will despise this style of storytelling. I, however, found this reinforcement of dichotomy to be brave and daring, showing how the actions in one person’s life can create such impact (for the better or for the worse) into the future. Marie Curie directly impacted her daughter Irene (played by Anya Taylor-Joy of The Queen’s Gambit), who went on to win a Nobel prize of her own. Indirectly Marie Curie impacted humankind all around the globe forevermore. To me, this gives the extraordinary message that women do have power.

To me, this gives the extraordinary message that women do have power.

Despite all odds, the headstrong Marie was able to find a husband that respected and supported her science. For a moment, at least, it was possible to have both love and a dazzling career. I find this to be another powerful message for a world which tells women that we have to choose. We can have love but we must clip our wings, or we can choose a glorious career but stay a spinster until old age.

“I wasn’t a very good mother, was I?” Marie admits to an adult Irene as they are heading into a World War I battlefield. Mothering is difficult. Put on top of that being a single mother and juggling a world famous career. How does one play all these roles? Is it even possible? Or are these illogical demands we put on girls and women who long to have both kids and a CV? And yet, Irene Curie turned out just fine in her own accord.

Finally, I was most taken aback by the line that Marie Curie suffered more from lack of resources than from being a woman. This is so fresh. Satrapi’s Curie never victimizes herself as a woman dominated by men. She is confident with her mind, her values, and her worth. And this is why I find Radioactive so inspiring.

Have you seen Radioactive? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!