Family movie time is so much more than one to two hours of sitting in the same room with your kids. When they’re still wanting snuggles like my kids (ages 7 and 8), they love sitting next to or against me or my wife. Not only that, fictional worlds are a wonderful way to connect with our kids, especially when it comes to animated films. We watched Raya and the Last Dragon on Disney+ this week, and it was definitely worth the wait.
Raya and the Last Dragon exemplifies what’s brilliantly wonderful with storytelling. Not only is it visually beautiful, there are relevant messages in the story that are things I want my kids to learn – whether it be about overcoming mistakes, how to deal with trust issues, or changing mindsets, because we all grow as we get older, learning to do what’s right.
MISTAKES DO NOT HAVE TO DEFINE US
Raya is a lovable character who learns hard life lessons at an early age, while experiencing trauma that’s impossible to forget. After a once-united country becomes divided after dragons save the world, Raya’s father Benja brings all of those nations together. Although this division came from the desire to control the last “dragon gem,” Benja wants to reunite everyone in the hopes of finding a way to live harmoniously, believing that being unified will make them stronger.
Despite being a defender of the blue dragon gem, Raya meets a similarly aged girl from a visiting nation and invites her to see the stone. Betrayal ensues and a battle for control of the gem leads to it breaking. Unbeknownst to everyone, the gem was keeping away the druun, a black-and-purplish wave of swirling smoke that turns people – and once dragons – into stone. So, people hurried away, while taking broken pieces of the gem with them.
Even after many years pass, Raya blames herself. She trusted someone else, and that led to the fall of all civilization. The world looks vastly different with the druun out, as if a once-boisterous and long-walked path has now been filled with silence and human-shaped statues. There’s a daily reminder of the blame she casts on herself – and she has only her adorable Tuk Tuk to keep her company, at first. Along her journey to gather all of the gems, she seeks out the final dragon who is presumably alive according to legend.
Raya’s adventure is poignant, because she not only has to overcome her own sense of misgivings, but she must find a way to work with others. Despite knowing what betrayal looks and feels like, Raya must learn to trust others. In doing so, she starts to understand that she is not alone in experiencing loss in the world. She knows firsthand how devastating it can be to witness the end of a loved one’s life, so the bonds she forms with others are genuine.
Overcoming obstacles is one thing, but learning to overcome perceived mistakes is another. This is a profound message for kids to learn. My kids were able to witness how one person’s mistake did not have to define who they are, or better yet, it did not deter Raya from continuing to move on. Yes, there are moments when all feels lost, but that’s a very important point made in this film: All is not lost even in the darkest of times. As a parent, Raya and the Last Dragon does this exceptionally well, and does so in such a way that I contemplated whether or not I’d seen it done as well in any other film.
TRUST OR NOT TO TRUST
This message is something that’s completely identifiable as parents teach their kids the fundamentals: right versus wrong, “don’t talk to strangers,” and what it means to make friends. As my kids get older, they will have to engage with friends, or people who they might not know, and learn how to be open in a way that might lead to heartache.
What happens when a “friend” says something mean or does something awful? For example: plays nice to steal a family’s sacred gem? There’s confusion, trying to understand why anyone would be motivated to do such things, but there’s also heartache at feeling misled and possibly unwanted. Raya experiences this with Namaari several times throughout this story, and it’s one of the messages that emphasizes the importance of second (or even third) chances. Raya and the Last Dragon represents a wonderful cast of characters who have all felt the pains of the druun, but, sometimes, memories of one’s past supersede what needs to be done to survive the future.
Trust might feel like a tilting scale where one has to be careful not to put your full weight one way or the other, but, in fact, trust only works if you’re willing to show you’re there wholly. I think it was important for my kids to learn that trust is a two-way street. Yes, the old adage of “trust must be earned” does still apply when it has been broken, but if you’re not willing to show it yourself, why would anyone be willing to do the same?
CHANGE AND BEING DIFFERENT DOES NOT MEAN BAD
I love having my kids watch heroes who look different from them. My kids need to learn that being intelligent, heroic, strong, caring, or trustworthy is not related to the color of their skin. They need to know that everyone has the capacity to be wonderful, that friendships can come from anyone or anything (Oh, Tuk Tuk.), and that looking up to other characters does not mean having to identify with what they look like, what they wear, or what amazing sword they wield.
Raya and the Last Dragon was the perfect movie for my kids to see all of those things. Wonderful characters, voiced by an incredible cast, are the heart of making stories magical. Stories matter in our lives, because we get to see what is possible – even in fictional worlds. There’s heartache. There’s betrayal. There are many things that can be sad. Yet, there are amazing friendships, wonderfully imagined landscapes and action sequences, and there are characters who look different. Despite perceived differences or stereotypes, without getting to know someone, we will never know anyone.
To quote Captain Picard, “It is the differences that has made us strong.” Raya is a champion for understanding this. Despite being betrayed, despite not fully trusting others, she realizes that trust goes both ways and mistakes don’t solely define who she is or others. These lessons are not easy to learn, and that’s made evident in this film, but it’s important for my kids to understand that sometimes life is hard. It’s not always easy to make friends, to trust absolutely, or to live with making mistakes. Raya and the Last Dragon highlights all of these messages together with astounding clarity, all while adding humorous and touching moments, vibrant scenic backgrounds, and delivering on the notion that, in the end, it is the differences that make us strong!
What are your thoughts on this movie? Did you have to turn it back on immediately because your kids asked to watch it a second time right after (like mine did)? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below or start a conversation with us on social media. If you want to see more Disney+ content, or other PG-rated content for kids, let us know what else you’d like us to cover. Also, make sure to like and share this post with all of your friends, and give the GPG a follow over on Facebook and Twitter.
Until next time, friends, happy parenting and happy geeking!