In a world often driven by personal needs, motivations, and desires, we must find and showcase humanity’s reality in all its beauty. From cultural differences, individual communities making up our world, and the varying shades of perspective we face daily, we each experience something different. Conversations on responsibility, power, trust, and reconciliation are great places to start when looking to understand how to unite our communities together even as we struggle with differing opinions and values.
Raya and the Last Dragon provides an hour and a half of fun and powerful storytelling. There are relevant messages throughout that are great things for any child to learn - whether it be about overcoming mistakes, dealing with trust issues, or changing mindsets, because we all grow as we get older, learning to do what’s right. It is in understanding that stories - our own and those we view and experience from others, even fictional stories - allow us to see what’s possible. Stories allow us to open up to new perspectives, learn lessons, and grow.
RECOGNIZING A NEED FOR OTHERS
The movie opens with the history of Kumandra, the united land that once existed 500 years ago. Humans and dragons coexisted in a way that provided happiness to all. The dragons were magical creatures whose unique powers brought a sense of pride, unity, and safety to each member of Kumandra. Then an evil monster comes along, although for once, we are met not with a person but rather an emotion or an entity. The Drunn is a ball of negative or dark energy if you will.
The Drunn destroys the harmony in the world until one dragon comes along to save it. Fast forward, and once again the world is on the brink of chaos. Kumandra has the most critical resource, the dragon stone that initially saved the world. And the other four nations want it. War ensues as each nation tries to “take” the stone, feeling it rightfully belongs to them. In the resulting conflict, the dragon stone gets broken into five pieces and reawakens the Drunn.
MISTAKES DO NOT HAVE TO DEFINE US
While Raya feels her misplaced trust in another led to the destruction of the dragon stone and the frozen state of her loved ones, namely her father, who dreamed of uniting the fractured communities, she embarks into the unknown, trying to restore the gem and save her father. This idea that we could take back a single choice or forgo a mistake is something that plagues many throughout life, and Raya is no exception. As Raya starts her journey, feeling that this betrayal of a friend is the root cause of her conflicts. Rather than seeing that with each choice, we are offered a new opportunity to adjust our trajectory.
Despite being betrayed and not fully trusting others, she realizes that trust goes both ways and that mistakes don’t solely define who she is or others. These lessons are not easy to learn, which is evident in this film, but kids need to recognize that sometimes life is hard. It won't always be easy to make friends, to trust absolutely, or to live with making mistakes.
LEARNING HOW TO WORK WITH PEOPLE YOU DISAGREE WITH IS INVALUABLE
The concept of “taking” is tied throughout the movie, and in life, you see this reflected from young children to entire nations caught up in “taking” from one another. When we “take” energy from others without contributing something in return or even get caught up in what we may have had “taken” from us, we create an imbalance in the world.
As Raya progresses on her journey, she realizes that she can only save the world with the help of each of the four nations she originally wrote off as enemies. Salvation through unity is their only hope for success.
This movie shows how far a little food, friendship, and hope can go. Also, how our preconceived notions of other people can be wrong, especially when they’re based on where they come from. The team Raya puts together is an unlikely one full of people who should be enemies- which turns out to be a great strength. We must remember that we are all human and make mistakes. And that we all have different gifts and are better together than on our own.
JUST BECAUSE IT SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE DOESN’T MEAN YOU SHOULDN’T TRY
As the movie reaches its climax, Raya realizes that the only way to save the world is through forgiveness, letting go of her need for control, learning compassion, and allowing herself to put trust back in others. Sometimes your trust will get you conned; other times, it just might save someone. A little trust and hope go an awful long way. All of this energy, just like the Drunn, is an energy that can be used destroy, or if we can learn to tolerate others, love, accept and trust like Raya, we can use our energy to promote good in the world and our life.
TRUST OR NOT TO TRUST
At first, Raya is consumed with anger, although she knows Naamari did not mean to kill Sisu. This throws her into a raging warrior princess battle between her and Naamari, where Naamari could have been easily defeated. Raya instead remembers her father’s wishes for unity and turns to saving the crumbling world around her rather than defeating her old friend. Raya and her clan band together until the remaining dragon gem pieces start to lose their magic in fending off the Druun, where she remembers one thing Sisu taught her – the importance of trust.
Realizing that the dragon gem’s magic only worked through the trust between Sisu and her brothers and sisters, she sacrifices herself to Druun to show her trust in Naamari and unite the gem pieces for unity. Boun, Noi, the monkeys, and Tong follow Raya’s steps in trusting Naamari. Ultimately, Naamari gathers all the dragon gem pieces and finally sacrifices herself.
These acts of trust in Naamari from Raya and the crew ignite the power of the dragon gem once more, restoring the people who turned to stone back to life and the dragons that once roamed the land. Raya ultimately finds her Ba and gets to reintroduce him to the land of Kumandra.
When you understand the power of trust behind a united community, you can truly thrive within your circle because you know you are not alone, as Raya got to experience herself. Belonging to a unified community allows us to feel a part of something greater than just ourselves. Without learning this importance, Kumandra could have never been restored to its former harmony. Through remaining kind to others, understanding different perspectives, seeing past mistakes, choosing to coexist, and showcasing trust, we can find the means to create a solid and united community amongst one another, just as Raya and Sisu did with the rebirth of Kumandra.
A self-described geek, Maria Laquerre-Diego is a CEO and Owner who is committed to increasing access to mental health services and breaking down the stigma surrounding therapy services. As a therapist turned CEO, Maria has developed a unique perspective when it comes to mental health and the barriers surrounding mental health treatment. Influenced by her time at New Mexico State University in the Family and Consumer Science department, and University of New Hampshire’s Marriage and Family Therapy department, Maria has turned her dedication to giving back and supporting future generations of therapists. In addition to supporting mental health providers, Maria takes an active role in addressing the continued stigma of mental health services through the use of pop culture – everything from movies and television shows to superheroes and Disney characters. Maria has spoken about mental health at several local events, has served as an officer on professional boards and has provided training to clinicians all over the country while maintaining her and her family’s roots as Aggies! Outside of the office, Maria can be found spending time with her family and loved ones, exploring the world through travel, and creating cosplays for herself, her husband and their two little ones. Maria is always happy to talk about Star Wars, Marvel and mental health and can be contacted through her practice website www.anewhopetc.org