‘The Last Airbender’ was a mistake, watch the cartoon instead
I think this is the first negative review I’ve written since I warned readers to avoid the new “Cats” movie at all costs. But with the resurgence of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” on Netflix I can’t help but choose its less-than-great live action counter part for this week’s Throwback Thursday.
I can remember growing up watching the cartoon on Nickelodeon when it first came out in 2005. My siblings and I watched it religiously up until its finale in 2008. It was probably the first show I ever had a vested interest in that I can recall.
My siblings and I were super excited when we learned there would be a live-action version coming out in 2010. We even went to the Harvest Moon Drive-In along Route 220 in Linden to see it.
I remember sitting in the back of my mom’s van as the opening credits rolled just buzzing with anticipation. That of course changed as it progressed.
The movie takes place in a fictitious world that is made up of four nations each centered around an element –there’s the Fire Nation, Earth Kingdom, two Water Tribes in the north and south and the Air Nomads. Some people within these countries and tribes have the ability to use telekinesis to move or “bend” the elements of their homeland.
The movie does a decent job of sticking with the main plot of the series: An airbender named Aang is tasked with fulfilling his duties as the Avatar and mastering all four elements to keep balance in the world.
For many of you who aren’t giant nerds like me and don’t know anything about this story: The Avatar is considered the bridge between the spiritual and physical worlds and is supposed to keep balance. When an Avatar dies, they are reincarnated. The reincarnation follows a cycle which goes Water Tribes, Earth Kingdom, Fire Nation and then Air Nomads.
Of course it’s not THAT simple. 100 years prior to when the movie takes place the Fire Nation obliterated the Air Nation, leading everyone to believe Aang had gone into hiding.
That’s until Southern Water Tribe siblings Katara and Sokka accidentally find the air bender trapped in an iceberg near their village.
This sets the trio on a quest to get Aang to the Northern Water Tribe where he can learn to master water, one of three elements he needs to learn before he can face Firelord Ozai who plans to use the power of a comet to wreak havoc on the world.
I will say the racial diversity they included was nice in some instances but they definitely butchered it overall.
The cartoon drew (no pun intended) inspiration from multiple locations in Asia as well as the multitude of cultures throughout the continent and some beyond.
For example, the Northern and Southern Water Tribes drew heavily from the Inuit and Sireniki and yet the actors who played Sokka and Katara were played by two white actors — Jackson Rathbone and Nicola Peltz. The pairs grandmother is also played by a white actress too.
They did include some diversity by casting Dev Patel as banished Prince Zuko, Cliff Curtis as Ozai and Damon Gupton as Aang’s mentor Monk Gyatso. But overall it feels like they really failed to keep the root of the shows cultural background together.
The animation they used for bending was also a let down. The show depicts bending the four elements in a fight as fast paced, utilizing martial arts styles to take down your opponent.
In the movie it’s slow moving and pretty boring. I’ll chalk some of that up to animation and CGI not being like it is now but it was 2010 so I’m not completely blaming it on that.
Overall the movie isn’t nearly as entertaining as the show so I would avoid it. It’s on Netflix if you’re interested in watching it but I’d watch the cartoon instead which is also on the platform.
“Avatar The Last Airbender” covers a wide variety of real world topics and themes that are great for kids to learn over the span of three seasons.
This review basically turned into a promotion of the show but I have no regrets for that. It’s worth it, even as an adult.
Laura Jameson is a staff reporter for The Express.