Film Review: Raya and the Last Dragon

I remember watching Mulan from the floor of my living room, gazing up to the screen, a little girl absolutely fascinated by a princess who looks like me–and yet, doesn’t at the same time. As a first-generation of Southeastern Asian descent, I felt like Mulan didn’t represent my culture. Even as Disney created a female Asian who takes the lead role, I still felt left out. After watching Raya and The Last Dragon, I felt like my culture was now being appreciated.

A heroine who doesn’t undergo typical coming-of-age experiences, but instead carves her own path to save her world and even becomes the villain of her own story–Raya is undoubtedly one of the best Disney princesses for Asian Americans to look up to. In the fantasy world of Kumandra, humans and dragons used to live in harmony. With different kingdoms who are separated by hate, Raya finds the last dragon Sisu and embarks on a quest to restore their uninhabitable land.

I have quite a few things to mention about the movie. In regards to animation, the movie is bright and colorful with realistic shots–the perfect setting for a hero’s journey. To be honest, the plot itself was often predictable; it seemed too straight forward, especially as a quest plot. The characters however, were extremely diverse and versatile in personality and never fall short to entertain the audience. There’s never a specific villain, but rather applies to everyone in the movie–a well-thought aspect to include. All of the characters show real human emotions at the right times; negative characteristics such as anger, hatred, and mistrust contributes greatly to the story’s plot and message.

As for the Southeast Asian references, Raya and the Last Dragon does so well in including details from every Southeast Asian culture. From my perspective, I was finally able to see a representative of my culture, regardless of it being a nonfictional movie. Raya is a bold, empowering female figure that I believe many little girls can look up to, no matter the race. Unfortunately, I’ve already grown out of my childhood, yet I’m grateful nonetheless. Disney has finally created a movie that girls of Southeast Asian descent can watch on the floor of their living room, gaze up to the screen, and see a courageous princess who actually looks like them.

– Natisha P.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy: 9780451530271 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

In the book, Hardy described the impact of the emerging industrialization and urban civilization on the old, rural Wessex area, exposing the false morality that imprisons people’s thoughts, emphasizes chastity, and represses women’s social status. The tragic fate of Tess reflects the background of the times: economic poverty, the unfair legal system, hypocritical religion, and the hypocritical morality of the bourgeoisie. Tess’s tragedy is the product of society at that time, so Tess’s tragedy is also a social tragedy. The tragedy of Tess, a beautiful girl with a pure heart, is caused by the ugly social reality. As a poor woman with a low social status, Tess was inevitably oppressed and humiliated, both materially (including economic, powerful and physical) and spiritually (including religious, moral and traditional concepts). As a victim of society, Tess is not only hard-working and brave but also pure and kind. She was born poor, but full of beautiful ideals. In order to realize this ideal, she went out three times. But she was alone, and each time she was hit harder and harder. Tess’s tragedy not only has its deep economic and class roots but also has its moral and religious, legal factors.

Tess’s economic and class status decided that she was in a passive position in front of the morality, religion and law that served the bourgeoisie. The tragedy of Tess is that a pure and kind woman was destroyed by the decadent ethics, hypocritical religion and unjust legal system of the bourgeoisie. And Tess’s own bourgeois morality and religious morality consciousness also caused her own tragedy to some extent, because she could not get rid of the shackles of those traditional morality to herself, which was the weak side of her character. In addition, the emerging bourgeoisie represented by Alec d’Urberville was the direct cause of Tess’s misfortune, while the traditional ethics represented by Angel was an invisible and more terrible spiritual persecution. The value of this image of Tess is precisely that she dares to challenge the forces that oppress her. However, in the face of powerful social forces, her resistance inevitably brings tragedy. Her tragic fate seems to be a personal one, but in fact she symbolizes the whole fate of the British farmer at the end of the 19th century. Hardy used Tess’s tragic life to forcefully attack the patriarchal society in the Victorian era.

Women living in this patriarchal society are doomed to be oppressed and controlled, unable to escape the tragic fate. In the eyes of the guardians of the mainstream discourse in the patriarchal society, women are always in the position of dependence and subordination. The innocent victim, Tess, is considered to be the opposite of the mainstream ideology, the patriarchal society and a deviant prostitute and demon girl who is not tolerated by the society. To the destruction and oppression of the patriarchal society, although Tess began to fight and even shouted out the essence of the oppression of the patriarchal society on women, she still failed and could not get rid of the powerful and invisible control network of the patriarchal society in the end and went towards destruction. The application of painting art in the environmental description of Tess of the D ‘Urbervilles, especially the application of color and light, has an important influence on the characterization, atmosphere contrast, theme analysis and readers’ psychological reception of this work. It presents the tragedy of love and marriage in the heroine Tess’s short life in a real and appealing way, which makes readers empathize with this tragic struggle of life.

Although the scenery is based on the scenery from nature, the scenery as a landscape actually no longer exists because they have become a background, reflecting and coordinating the feelings and experiences of the characters. Whether it is a grass, a tree, a flower, a cloud or a field, Hardy reproduces it not in the way a photographer does, but in the way he paints. With the help of color, light, line and other means of painting, the writer tries to explore the color relationship between the sky and the ground, during which there is an invisible contrast effect, reflecting his sensitivity to width and strength. Hardy presents the picturesque rural living environment, lifelike characters and wonderful and moving details to the readers, giving them beauty and enjoyment. At the same time, through the pictures of specific life, he spared no effort to depict the complexity of the characters and reveal the moral theme and tragic theme of the work. In the novel, the description of each scene is to reveal a certain course of the law of Tess’s spiritual development, which also echoes Tess’s character and destiny. Before each appearance of Tess, Hardy spent a great deal of time describing the environment there.

The various stages of Tess’s life, such as the quiet valley of Brie and its surrounding mountains, meadows, valleys, and rivers, the beautiful tablecloth, and the desolate and bitter robin, give the reader a general view. The use of painting art makes the text appear in front of the reader like a picture, which is organically integrated with the characters and plots in the novel. Here, art follows nature, and the artist’s hand involuntarily obeys the eye’s sense. By means of artificial or natural symbols it is possible to reawaken in our imagination images similar to the real things. By means of the art of painting, the essence of a particular aspect of external things is captured, and a certain aspect of human mood is associated with it, which, in the form of words, arouses in the mind of the reader the kind of feeling needed. In this way, Hardy skillfully conceived, combined the changes of natural environment with the ups and downs of characters’ fate, and used special environment description to render the relationship between people, between man and nature, and between man and society, which constituted the incomparable peculiar charm of the novel. The emotions of the characters and the changes in the mood and color of the environment constitute an inseparable whole. The environment portends to reflect the character’s fate and emotion, and the character’s emotional fate endows the environment with more spirit and vitality. The emotional appeal of the environment and the soul of the character form a whole, and complement each other.

-Coreen C.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Cat in the Rain by Ernest Hemingway

Cat in the Rain - Ernest Hemingway - listen online for free

One rainy day an American couple visiting Italy stayed in their hotel. The husband was reading in bed and the wife was standing by the window looking out at the view when she came across a cat crouched under a dripping green table. In a spirit of compassion, the wife decided to carry the cat back to her room in the rain. But when she got down, the cat was nowhere to be seen. The wife returned to her room in great disappointment. A maid was standing at the door with a large tortoise-shell cat, which the landlord had given to her wife.

The novel comes to a screeching halt, leaving the reader with plenty of room for imagination. Cat in the Rain is one of the few short stories that reflect female consciousness. In this novel, the heroine does not have a name, but the author gives her different titles in different situations. This paper analyzes the desire and awakening of the female subject consciousness of the hostess princess in the patriarchal society from the perspective of appellation. It embodies Hemingway’s simple narrative style and implicit stylistic characteristics.

The novel was written in the early 1920s, when the status of women in the United States was undergoing great changes. The new women redefined their roles in the family and society. They demanded to be equal to men and no longer played the roles played by traditional women who were sheltered and subordinate to men. In fact, the new women are more like men, looking and acting like tomboys: they wear short hair, short skirts, play golf, drive cars, smoke, and drink like men. They are open-minded, enthusiastic and pursue fun. Cat in the Rain fully reflects Hemingway’s profound thinking on the status of women in the family and society under the background of that time.

Cat in the Rain is one of Hemingway’s few works with a female protagonist. In this novel, Hemingway delicately described their inner desires, anguish, needs, words, and deeds from the perspective of women, conveying the subordination of women in the patriarchal society and their strong desire to change the situation. Even with the gradual awakening of their self-consciousness and their struggle against the society, the theme of women in the works is more implicit, profound, and thought-provoking, implying Hemingway’s understanding and attitude towards women.

As a nameless woman in ordinary life, the American wife has no choice and no ability to choose between inner needs (desires) and external temptations during the journey of life, so she can only create an unreal world for herself to seek temporary satisfaction through whispering. The reason why women have a special liking for cats is determined by the specific aesthetic characteristics and perceptual requirements of women under the social conditions at that time. A woman and a cat are naturally linked by her natural maternal instinct and compassion. Cat in the Rain inspired the American wife’s desire to find the lost self, which was the inevitable result of women’s understanding and thinking about their own destiny.

-Coreen C.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Persuasion by Jane Austen: 9780307386854 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

In the book, Austen spends much of her time describing the years of pain that “prudence” brings to the heroine, Anne. She wants young people to look to the future with confidence, without undue worry and caution. When Anne was young, she had to be careful that she did not know what romance was until she was old — the inevitable consequence of a deformed beginning. If in Sense and Sensibility, Austen emphasizes the triumph of reason over emotion and believes that only in this way can people achieve happiness, then in her last novel, Austen spends much of her time describing the years of pain caused by prudence to the heroine.

Persuasion affirms the evolution of characters from cautious to romantic, which undoubtedly reflects the change of the author’s own creative thinking. It was also a challenge to the traditional ideas of the time. While choosing women and women’s lives as the main themes of Persuasion, Austen also succeeded in portraying positive female images. Through the description of these female images, she protested against the distortion and degradation of women in male literature and corrected and subverted the model of male superiority and female inferiority. It is worth noting that Austen’s men, who had always been regarded as noble gentlemen, were often cast as villains and ridiculed, such as Sir Walter, who was conceited but foolish and incompetent, and Mr. Elliot, Anne’s mean-hearted cousin.

In Persuasion, Austen puts men and women on an equal footing in marriage, just as men like the beauty and kindness of women, Anne likes Wentworth not because of his male power and money (Wentworth was not born rich, but rose all the way through his own efforts, representing the emerging class). Although at the end of the novel, Austen still insisted that the heroine was married off according to the stipulations of the patriarchal society, but her marriage was no longer a Cinderella model and no longer depended on the charity of the patriarchy, but had the germination of the women’s liberation movement.

Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas

Celaena Sardothien is Adarlan’s most infamous assassin. After her capture, she is sentenced to live out her days as a slave in the Endovier Salt Mines. She serves a year before Crown Prince Dorian Havilliard appears and offers her a chance to earn her freedom. She must compete in a brutal competition against murderers, assassins, and thieves to become the next royal assassin. The winner would be paid handsomely and after four years of service to the king, they would earn their freedom.

Celaena initially plans to escape, but soon finds reasons to stay. Her relationships with Prince Dorian and Captain of the Guard Chaol Westfall grow and soon lean to become more romantic. She befriends Princess of Eyllwe Nehemia Ytger, who seems to know more about Celaena’s hidden past than she should.

When contestants start turning up dead, ripped apart by some unnatural creature, Celaena scrambles to figure out who is behind the killings, and the mysterious Wyrdmarks that she finds all over the castle. And when the ancient Fae Queen Elena tasks Celaena with finding the evil that lurks in the castle, a much deeper, darker plot is uncovered.

What I love about this series is just how well thought out every single detail is. The first book has its own plot and just barely dips into the larger plot of the series. The second book lays the foundation for what’s to come. By the third book, it is a completely different story. The beginning of the series hints at the larger plot that is uncovered, but in a way that if you didn’t already know what was coming, it would just seem like extra details thrown in. Only when you realize the larger story do those details take on any meaning.

The series is epic and action-packed, along with just the right amount of romance. The incredible and complex world-building drew me in and left me wanting to know more about Erilea. I absolutely loved the characters in this series. There are so many, each with a distinct personality that makes many of them so likable, and each has a unique relationship with the others. There is not a shortage of strong female characters. All of the books in the series were hard to put down, and the last book was hard to finish. I fell in love with the characters and the world; it was hard to see their stories end.

I think it is safe to say that the Throne of Glass series is the best series I have read in a long time, and I would definitely recommend the series to anyone who enjoys action and fantasy.

-Lauren R. 

The Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. They can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J Maas

Image result for acotar series

I only do a series if the whole series is good or if the other books of the series are better than the first of the series. In this case, its the later.

In the first book, Feyre, strong and unbending, kills a wolf knowing that it’s a fae. She needed the food, and so did her family during a harsh winter. In return, Tamlin of the fae kidnaps her and brings her on the fae side of the wall that divided fae and human. Of course, she falls for Tamlin, and there are mysterious cute boys and sadistic evil queens in the distance.

In the second book, Feyre, without putting in too many spoilers, is having nightmares and depression after facing the evil queen in the first book, and cannot be happy even though she’s marrying Tamlin. She then gets kidnapped by this mysterious cute boy from the first book, named Rhysand, at her wedding and he takes her to his house and she helps fight the even eviler fae king, which continues into the third book.

Of course, this is myself trying not to do spoilers. Now, I have to show what I think about the series. For those who like evil fairies and magic will love this series.

For the first book, I felt that it was okay. I felt that Feyre was being treated like a princess, as she was told by everyone that she should stay behind and not move or else she would get hurt. She does get hurt by the end of the book, and it is quite nasty, but I feel that she grows from it. I would guess that readers should be at least fourteen to read it, which is typical.

Then we reach the second book, where Feyre is treated like a queen. There were a lot of events that led up to this, such as a book character that every girl wants for their husband, but this was the development of Feyre that I would want in any protagonist, and it has only been the second book. However, I would warn readers that the book is rated very older teen. Feyre going into depression is nasty, with her having bulimia and no one being there to help her, which is very depressing in itself, and there are other mature and…. er…. questionable scenes.

Finally, the third book. Not only is Feyre being treated like a queen, but she also has to bear the responsibilities of the crown and has to face her own nightmares. The rating is older teen, with the scenes not as numerous as the second book but still quite as questionable.

There are also many splendid and enjoyable characters besides Feyre: a member of one of the LGBT groups, a woman that makes everyone scared (to make you scared, she drinks blood from a bowl!), two goofy males that are supposedly the strongest of their kingdom, a man who is trying to choose between the duty to his lord and what he thinks is right, and a man that is trying to support everything and everyone, but needs an equal to support.

To sum up, I found this series to be the best I have read in quite a while, and I hope that more people could read it.

-Megan V., 12th grade

Sarah J. Maas’s books are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

mistborn_brandonsandersonImagine a world without a sun. Where mysterious wraiths roam around in the constant mists. Where most of the population is controlled by a group of uptight nobles and a dark ruler. This is just part of everyday life for Vin, a girl abandoned to a thieving crew by her older brother at a young age. In this life, she must struggle to survive, occasionally calling on her strange, mythical Luck, an ability that allows her to soften the emotions of others. However, this all changes when a strange man wielding similar powers named Kelsier finds her with an insane plan to overthrow the oppressive Final Empire.

This is one of the best books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. It takes you on a wondrous adventure through the possibilities of a dark future, and the constant presence of the true strength that all humans wield. More than anything else, though, Mistborn really goes into detail about the different aspects of the human personality, including who you can trust and whether or not it’s a good thing. In fact, the author, Brandon Sanderson, also wrote The Reckoners series, which goes just as deeply into the human psyche. Mistborn was given to me by a good friend and actually helped me get through some hard stuff going on in my life because it truly illustrates the point: there’s always something you can do.

This book should mostly appeal to teens (high school or middle)  who need a little motivation in their lives. I would not, however, recommend this story for younger audiences as it is not appropriate and mentions some “iffy” topics not suited for children under 12-13. This is not a quick read but it is worth 33 AR points! A very worthwhile read, however.

-Evan G., 7th grade

Mistborn is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library