Raya and the Last Dragon: A Quarantine Letter to My Daughter

Dear Ezra,

I know. Quarantine is hard on everyone. But for the developing mind of a child, it is almost unthinkable. I know, when you ask when your friends can come over, you no longer expect a result. When you ask if you can go ice skating or do ballet lessons, that we both realize the reality of the moment. That when you ask when we go to the movie theater, I realize very well how much it meant to you, to hold onto the idea for over a year, that within your heart, our movie nights mean as much, and possibly more, to you.

It’s been a while since my last letter. When I last wrote you, we had just been to your first Real IMAX showing. It was Frozen 2 (2019), the continuation of the first movie you closely identified with. We went to the lovely Pacific Science Center theater in downtown Seattle. A place filled with curiosity, a remnant of the 1962 World Fair, a unique architectural space sitting just beneath the Space Needle, given to us in the same event.

And now we look out over Seattle, a place that used to be for us. And I realize the distance. That’s the place we used to go. Where adventures were promised around every corner. I realize, sitting in bed watching a movie from a laptop, projected to the screen, that it’s not the same as the largest screen in the city. That sits with me here, as we’re laid back against a pile of pillows, rather than in comfy armchairs engrossed in the group experience of it all.

At home, each viewing experience may be roughly the same. But you make each one special. Because I get to be with you for all of them. There have been a lot of limitations the last year, but the silver lining of it all is that I have a direct experience of your growth. No more interruptions of Dad having to go to the cinema, or anywhere else, for that matter. Just our family. And I’m grateful for every moment.

Any new thing that you love is automatically the “best” thing, because you live so distinctly within the moment. When I watch a film like Raya and the Last Dragon, and experience it from a place of seeing all the Disney movies, what I experience is a mild story of adventure. I could pick it apart every which way in a critical essay. The story does not feel connective, while it honors several spaces of Southeast Asia it lacks for a distinct tone, the character work uses the personality of its voice actors as a crutch, isn’t it better when Disney movies have songs in them? The whole thing washes over me, because I’ve seen everything and this is just another thing after a long awards season.

But for you, it is magic. It is a movie with Dad. One that you have the privilege to see a little early. And you treasure that experience. For you, dear Ezra, every emotion is magnified. A colorful story about a strong-willed young girl, with an expanding cast of quirky characters and a dragon — well, that’s as good as it gets. It’s not just a movie with a happy Disney ending. It’s a prolonged series of happy events. Each time you reach the end, you laugh like it’s the most marvelous thing that has been committed to film.

Maybe your critical faculties haven’t been sharpened yet. I’ve seen ten more interesting movies just the last week. You may be four and full of curiosity, but you haven’t experienced the French New Wave. We have a lot of work left to do, before you are a reliable critic. But I trust you, always. All I know is that every statement you make is made with an outpouring of compassion and empathy. That you feel and mean every thing that you say.

I know that you are my favorite artist in the world. Because you create art from the genius mind of a child. There are no preconceptions about how something ought to look or what colors need to be used or what shape anything has to be. You just know. And then you create the most abstract and beautiful things.

And so, when we watch a movie together, I see that you come to the same conclusions. Because you are an artist. You realize the shape and form of something, that animation fills these same abstract parts of your brain with inspiration. When the dragons dance on screen, your laughter is the sign of deeply felt empathy, for the tradition of art.

You have not seen the French New Wave. But The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013) is your favorite film, which is a better choice than whatever most critics say they like. Because you understand something intrinsic that we may have lost as adults. What it really means to look at an animated object. And not to analyze it, but to feel it and absorb it for all its intrinsic value.

I know. I realize how difficult this quarantine has been for you. And yet, I’m extremely grateful for it. Because you’ve blossomed into the most extraordinary young artist. All of four years old, I know every word you speak is one of compassion and empathy. When we sit in bed and watch a movie, and you hold your head against mine and say, this is the best a movie has ever been, I believe you. Because despite whatever I feel about what is on-screen, it’s the best a movie has ever been for me, too.




P.S. I have requested that Ezra provide her own score out of ten:


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