The only way I know how to start this is by saying that I love Avatar: The Last Airbender. From the moment I first stumbled across the show on Nickelodeon in the summer of 2006, I was hooked. The action and animation were fantastic, but what initially got my interest was the story. I’ve always loved elemental manipulation in fantasy, so an entire show about won my nerd heart. But the thing that I truly appreciated about Avatar and what kept me coming back was the humor and the humanity. All of the characters were so relatable and fleshed out, I was amazed that this was a cartoon for kids. It didn’t talk down to you. And when it came to jokes, they could be the typical kid gags, aiming for easy laughs, but they piled on top of that more absurdity and quirkiness than I’d seen since the glory days of Nick animation. Where the show triumps, the film fails. It has the elemental control, it has the visuals, and it has the action. Unfortunately, it lacks the humor and humanity. Hit the jump for my review (w/ minor spoilers).
When I first read about this movie being made, it came with two groans instead of one. Not only were they going to bastardize one of my favorite animated shows into a live-action film, but attached as auteur was M. Night Shyamalan, a man who I’d grown to revile as a filmmaker over the years. As details emerged, I grew even more upset as I learned of the various white-washed casting choices. And then, Jesse McCartney as Zuko. Gross. Luckily, he dropped out and Slumdog Millionaire star Dev Patel stepped in. Ok, I started to feel a little better. I soon felt okay about the racial casting as new stars from a variety of ethnicities stepped in. It began looking more diverse than the show itself. And once the teaser and full trailer arrived, I admit, I was won over a bit. The visuals looked amazing. Unfortunately, the film looked terribly dark and I knew they were likely to rob many of the characters of their sense of humor and joy. I was not mistaken. The film has so far been the worst reviewed movie of the year, which I find truly absurd. Worse than Grown Ups and Furry Vengeance? Really? A lot of shit has been said regarding racism. I think me and M. Night have quashed those. But a lot of it is the wooden performances in the film. Iroh is not jovial or wise, Sokka is not a pun-loving clutz with a heart of gold, and Aang isn’t a goofy kid who spends as much time playing games and laughing as thwarting evil. I don’t think there’s a single laugh, joke, or gag in the entire film. That from a show that regularly brough you this. Zuko is probably the only character true to his TV counterpart, but only because he’s the one character who is supposed to be dark and depressing. In the end, The film was entertaining if you are a fan of the series, but I could imagine it being boring and confusing if you weren’t. And it ended up being a disappointment, but only as much of one as I thought it would be. The thing that’s most alarming when watching it, is that it’s not a kids movie at all. Unlike the show that presents kids with a fun but mature action/adventure story, the film sacrifices all the joy and childlike wonder for a somber, dark-blue tinted, dull tale of a bunch of strangers who never talk to each other, travelling the world trying to stop an evil army with as much humanity as the main characters: that is to say, none.