Walt Disney’s ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ tells yet another timeless tale driven by its tried and tested formula of the royal protagonist’s mythical journey into peculiar perils, and when coupled with the warm animation and soothing background score that characterizes most of Disney animation films, it’s a classic recipe that is practically invincible. The story follows Raya, a lone warrior, who must reach out to the last surviving dragon to defeat the menacing monsters called Druun who have terrorized the fantasy kingdom of Kumandra.
Drawing heavily upon Southeast Asian myths and folklores, the film tackles relevant themes of isolationism and racism in its apparent garb of light-hearted fantasy. If the gorgeously animated world of Kumandra has taken you back to your childhood days, we have a few recommendations that you should consider checking out. You can watch most of these films similar to ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.
The only live-action film on this list, acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ is here for a reason. Mixing childhood fantasies with the omens of war, this film is a compelling study of the effects of war on a child’s psyche. A parable influenced by timeless fairy tales, the film follows the female protagonist Ofelia as she delves into a lost world of fantasy. Depicted against the backdrop of the Spanish civil war, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ is one of those visionary, poetic, and fragmented films that move the story inward. If you are a fan of grotesque fantastical creatures and compelling child characters, this is the film where you should put your money.
Based on the book of the same name by children’s novelist Deborah Ellis, war animation ‘The Breadwinner’ tells the heartrending story of a family caught between worlds of conflict. A stark depiction of the war-torn region of Kabul, the film revolves around the character of Parvana, who becomes the sole earning member of the family when her father is arrested by the Taliban. Seen from a little girl’s perspective that reminds one of the artistic legacies of Jafar Panahi, the film is a quest for feminine survival in an orthodox world that denigrates and humiliates women. If you happen to like films with strong female leads, you should check this one out.
Song of the Sea
Based on Celtic myths, ‘Song of the Sea’ tells the enchanting tale of a pair of siblings as they go on a journey to save the spirited world. Ben is a young Irish boy who lives with his father and his sister Saoirse in an isolated lighthouse. Saoirse is a selkie, meaning she can transform herself into a seal and back into human form. The second installment in director Tomm Moore’s animated trilogy that attempts to revitalize Irish folklores, ‘Song of the Sea’ is an engrossing tale of compassion. If you are keen to explore the myths of far-flung cultures, this film will hopefully end your search.
Released in the heydays of Disney animation, ‘Fantasia’ is a film that rightfully puts Walt Disney in the canon of great and timeless artists, along with the likes of Salvador Dali. The project that began as a venture to popularize the character of Micky Mouse ended up being one of the greatest Disney features ever made, if not the greatest. Disney’s boldest cinematic experimentation to date, the film combines animated imagery with classical music to offer a sublime experience to the audience. If you are fond of contemporary Disney films like ‘Raya and the Last Dragon,’ you should go back to the holy grail of Disney.
The Red Turtle
Minimalistic, meditative, and at times profoundly magical, Michael Dudok de Wit’s ‘The Red Turtle’ is an animated drama about a stranded man struggling against natural forces for survival. The premise is quite simple – a colossus red turtle destroys the raft of the man every time he tries to escape the island – that is until the turtle metamorphoses into a beautiful woman. Symbolic in its depiction of the worldly ties of human life that gives it meaning, the film remains silent for most parts, letting images speak for themselves. If you want to get lost in a bygone world of mysteries and intrigue, this film is well worth a watch or two.
Directed by maestro auteur Hayao Miyazaki, ‘Princess Mononoke’ is a tale of eroding natural wonders and intrigues in a modern world characterized by rapid industrialization. Like most Miyazaki films, this one is also highly symbolic in its depiction of nature-nurture dualism. The story takes us back to the 14th century, where the natural harmony between gods, humans, and animals is increasingly threatened by an industrial vision of rupture. Humans ravage the world and antagonize the forces of nature until nature reclaims the civilized world. If you have been intrigued by the bygone kingdom of ‘Kumandra’, this gem of an animated saga will leave you awestruck.
‘Moana’ is one of the rare Walt Disney movies that leave the comfort zone of western fairy tales to venture into myths of indigenous cultures. The story follows princess Moana, the daughter of village chief Tui, as she embarks upon a journey to return a stolen artifact to the goddess Te Fiti to whom it rightfully belongs. At the beginning of the film, the audience gets to know that the island crops are failing and fishes are dying in the region due to a curse of the demigod Maui who has stolen the heart of the goddess Te Fiti.
With the Pacific Ocean as her ally, Moana undertakes an epic voyage to heal the island of the bane of the demigod. Based on the myths of Polynesia, the film depicts the power of faith and persistence in face of danger and adversities. If you like contemporary Disney films because of their strong female leads, ‘Moana’ is the film you should add to your bucket list. Also, ‘Moana’s’ heartfelt ballad “How Far I’ll Go” is powerful stuff.