Characterization & Avatar: The Last Airbender

| Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Okay, can we talk about Avatar: The Last Airbender? NOT THE TERRIBAD MOVIE. The animated series from Nickelodeon.

One: If you are a middle grade lit fan, a fantasy fan, a Harry Potter fan, an anime fan, or someone who enjoys a good epic journey story, you should really watch this series. If you haven't already, I mean. Hell, even if you have, watch it again.


Three: Seriously, if you are having trouble with characterization or writing endearing, heartfelt young characters, watch this show and take notes. The characterization of the Avatar cast is impeccable, from the protagonist to the one-off side characters to the adults.

I watched this show long ago and just recently rewatched it. As I watched, I was reminded of the same feelings I got while reading the Harry Potter novels -- that overwhelming feeling of excitement and joy and love. The feeling that the characters had life breathed into them and weren't merely vehicles for the story. Their humor and emotions are real and powerful. Inner struggles, shades of gray, and overcoming everything from embarrassing pubescent moments to loss to bravery in the face of crippling odds.

I also have to mention that I absolutely love the way this show deals with disabilities. Frankly, that this show deals with disabilities (and more than one disability) is pretty incredible in and of itself, but that they do it with such care is the icing on the cake. The disabled characters are never maliciously singled out or othered due to their disability. In fact, they're treated with the same respect and responsibility as the other characters.

(Mild SPOILER warning!) Toph's storyline in particular illustrates this. Her parents underestimate and shelter her to the point of insult, when really she is just as capable and powerful as any other character. Also, oh man, is she funny and awesome. Of course, that's my perspective as an abled person, so if anyone else wants to weigh in on this issue, please do.

Anyway. Don't take my word for it. Watch for yourself. I'm of the opinion that this show is a prime example of quality writing for the middle-grade market with crossover appeal, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on it :)


{ Matthew Rush } at: February 9, 2011 at 7:04 AM said...

Avatar: The Last Airbender is hands down the greatest animated television show ever created. The story can at times seem simple at first, but there are several layers of underlying themes which make the depth of the series infinitely re-watchable. I love this show.

You make excellent points about the characters and disability as well.

Just FYI I did not find the film to be TERRIBAD, just REGUBAD. If they could have only pronounced the characters names correctly, I would have been okay.

{ Steph Sinkhorn } at: February 9, 2011 at 10:59 AM said...

LOL, sorry, Matt, but I'm still of the opinion that the live action film was godawful ;)

ALSO I FORGOT TO MENTION: the way the sexes are treated with more or less an even hand is awesome, too. There are some subplots where biological sex is poked at (OMG YOU CAN'T FIGHT YOU'RE A GIIIIIIRL), but the attitude is immediately shoved back in the naysayer's face and the female characters are clearly on equal ground as far as skill and ability.

{ Old Kitty } at: February 9, 2011 at 1:44 PM said...

I think we just got the film and not this animation series in the UK (I may be wrong, maybe it's on pay for tv!!). Anyway!!! I want to see!! Take care

{ Andrew Leon } at: February 9, 2011 at 2:42 PM said...

See, now, I thought the live action version was excellent. Really. An excellent example of how far Mr. M. Night has fallen. I have trouble comprehending how it is that he still works.
Here's how bad it was:
My kids wanted to see it because they like the animated show. Maybe 1/3 of the way into the movie, they asked if we could just take it out and they could watch the animated instead. Wow! No, really, wow! My boys really don't have a lot of discrimination, but they couldn't deal with it.
However, being the evil daddy that I am, I made them finish it since I had gone to the trouble of renting it for them.

{ aspiring_x } at: February 9, 2011 at 5:32 PM said...

i'm with matt on this one, the pronunciation was SO OBNOXIOUS!
but then the humor! i think the humor in the animated series was one of its biggest draws. i mean, there is depth, but instead of everyone being serious and sad all the time, they were seeking a balance. i think that was one of the major downfalls of the movie- removing the humor. aang and sokka were not right at all without humor. i guess zuko for the first book has no humor either, but the uncle ummm. iro! it just seems like that sense of love and joy and excitement that you speak of was bled out of the storyline when the humor was bled out... does that make sense? at least one good thing came from the movie, it made it abundantly clear the difference voice and interpretation can have over what is essentially the same story. :)

{ LTM } at: February 13, 2011 at 3:05 PM said...

omg omg omg!!! We LURV Avatar!!! I'm the biggest Zuko fan on the planet--talk about character arc, and you're so right about it jump-starting the inspiration. Excellent work, Steph~

(P.S. my two daughters are major Sokka/Toph fans~)

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