Matthew Winbow reviews the critically-acclaimed fantasy action film
The new Disney fantasy film Raya and the Last Dragon features a predominantly Asian American cast and has been ranked the number one movie in the world for the past three weeks.
My children aged 7, 5 and 2 love this film and it has been on repeat in our house. Not only are there gorgeous scenes inspired by Southeast Asian cultures in the fantasy land of Kumandra, but this is a tale of trust and learning to trust others. At its heart, sits a very Christian message.
The story begins 500 years ago. The land of Kumandra is caught in a conflict between the dragons and evil spirits known as the Druun. The Drunn are consuming the world, killing all life by turning it to stone. The last few dragons sacrificed themselves in creating an orb from their life-force that would ward off the Druun and revive all the humans.
A power struggle for the orb later divided Kumandra into various human tribes: Fang, Heart, Spine, Talon, and Tail. These tribes war against one another. During a conflict, the orb is split into pieces and the Drunn reappear. For six years, our hero Raya from the Heart tribe attempts to find Sisu, the last dragon said to have created the orb and the only surviving member of her species, to help her recover the missing orb pieces. The film is the story of Raya’s journey to unite the orb pieces and save Kumandra.
There are a number of striking Christian themes: Kumandra is saved ultimately through self-sacrificial trust, and Sisu, the last dragon herself, has a number of Christ-like qualities.
As Christians we often speak of Christ in his three offices of Prophet, Priest and King. Sisu acts in each of these three roles.
Sisu is quite literally a spirit. Being a dragon, she also literally shines, her skin glowing at various points in the film, her life-force gives life to others (in the form of the orb). In the course of the film she suffers death, not once, but twice, and in both places her death acts as the catalyst for the healing of the world. She also has a role as an end-time saviour. She saved the world 500 years ago and now has returned to set the world to rights.
There are other parallels with the Christian understanding of the world, the dragons have an angelic aspect (even appearing at times human) while the Druun who bring death and destruction have a demonic quality. The difference is that Christ is more than an angel. The Angel of the Lord in the Bible is indeed Christ (Jude 5; 1 Corinthians 10:9) but Christ is God, not a lesser created being.
Ultimately the world is saved and put back together through self-sacrificial love for our enemies. Raya chooses to do good to the ‘other’ by giving her piece of the orb to Namaari knowing that it would cause her own death. That is the molten heart of Christianity - both that Christ sacrificed himself for us who did not deserve it, but also that we are called to share the love of God with everyone, even our enemies.
Raya and the Last Dragon is rated PG and available now on Disney+