Disney’s latest movie Raya and the Last Dragon marks a change of tact. As always, there is a princess, but this time she is Southeast Asian. Raya wears a Pilipino styled hat. Her name means “celebration” in Malay. She gets around riding on an animal named “Tuk Tuk,” (Cambodian for cycle taxi). The battles in the film are in Asian mixed martial arts.
Disney went to great lengths to research this movie. Crew travelled to Laos, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore to study their cultures. This movie attempts to reach out to the almost 1 billion Southeast Asian market (not counting those in China).
Despite the effort and illusions, the plot is remarkably non-Asian, or non-Eastern. It is in fact very Christian, and Easter-like.
Eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism) see history as cyclical. Events come and go, kingdoms wax and wane, but the fundamentals never really change. The basic elements and patterns of the universe remain. People die but are then reborn, or re-incarnated. Things have a way of evening themselves out over time.
Following on from this, in Eastern religions, good never defeats evil. This too is part of the yin and yang of the universe. The aim is not to defeat evil, but simply to fulfil your duty, and eventually escape it’s never-ending cycle.
Western thought, by contrast, is about overcoming evil, and making progress towards the greater good. Progress takes effort, it comes at a price.
Easter – the climax of the Christian story – is about the great battle between good and evil; between Jesus and Satan; between love and truth versus selfishness and bribes and lies. Good wins, but a great price. The (self) sacrifice of the Son of God.
I find the thought that good wins reassuring. My heart sings when love and truth defeat selfishness and lies. I find Jesus’ sacrifice inspiring. That he did not leave us dead in sin is relieving. That Jesus loves us so much that he would give his life for us is overwhelming, and life-changing.
The Easter story is the greatest. Even Disney knows this. This is why Raya and the dragon fight evil, sacrifice, and good wins. This is a story worth retelling and celebrating.
Rev David Rietveld
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