As a child, I grew up with a television show called Avatar: The Last Airbender (2008), which was and still is my favorite animated show. In 2010, this television show was adapted into a movie by M. Night Shyamalan. I haven’t seen this movie in years, but I could vividly remember that it was a terrible adaptation of my beloved cartoon.
For those of you who unfortunately did not have a childhood, this show is about a boy, who is the “avatar” who possesses grand power over the four elements: water, earth, fire, and air. The whole earth is broken into four different nations corresponding to each different element, as well as certain people having access to only one elemental power. The avatar is reborn generation after generation as a peacekeeper. Unfortunately, the Fire Nation Lord has been developing a plan to take over the world. The avatar, who is just a 12-year-old boy named Aang, sets out on a mission to destroy the Fire Nation Lord to bring back peace and balance and along the way meets his friends that come to help him along his journey. Important recurring antagonistic characters in the show are the son and daughter of the Fire Nation. The son is named Zuko, who was banished from the Fire Nation by his own father, is on his own quest to restore his honor by returning back home with the avatar dead. Zuko is a complex character, who struggles in being able to decide whether his decisions are good or bad as well as if he really wants to kill the avatar for himself or to please his father. The daughter, Azula, does not really appear until the next season when she is sent to capture the Avatar, Zuko and their Uncle (Iroh).
Now, I’m going to explain why the movie did not do justice to its source material in the slightest. First of all, the TV show maintained a pretty good level of comedy throughout the series, but the movie had a hard time portraying the same sarcasm and tone displayed by the beloved characters onto the big screen. The bad acting didn’t help as well. Second, the movie had terrible 3D animation that just made the sequences seem weird and out of place because of how fake the visual effects seemed.
The characters, themselves, were almost completely whitewashed since the cast did not match the diversity of the TV show. It portrayed the white people as the good guys while the darker people were the bad guys, which didn’t send a good message. Rather, reinforcing the idea that people of color are bad. The film characters are not as relatable, and the goals for each character are not really shown in-depth, which loses the purpose of why each character is in the film causing them to seem crammed in and not fully explained. The characters also do not display the same characteristics. For example, Aang is a spirited, brave, selfless, strong, and creative boy who likes to have fun and is full of positivity, but in the movie, he seems to always be a sad, weak, selfish and scared little boy.
The pronunciations of certain subjects in the movie were wrong with even the name of the main character, Aang being said wrong. The directing in this movie had so many close-ups that the original show did not have and did not match the same colorful lighting/tone. The show had a warmer feel while the film had a more blue and cold feel to it. The main power of the Avatar is to bend the elements mentioned earlier. The TV show had great action-packed sequences, whereas the film showed Aang’s bending to just appear weird and not as powerful as the show with the fighting sequences appearing to portray people dancing rather than fighting. The movie is based on the first book/season, meaning that the movie skipped over a lot of important events and information, which can keep the viewer either a bit confused and/or left with questions.
This movie had the opportunity to show what it means to have true friends who will always stick by you no matter what and to show that no matter what the circumstances or how great the odds are against you, that it is okay to feel scared, but still face your fears. This cartoon has helped me through tough times in my life and even helped me gain some friends as well as hope in a way. The film adaptation just did not have the same feeling as it took away the literal heart and soul that made the TV series so enjoyable to me as a child. In conclusion, I would without a doubt recommend the animated series over the film because of the reasons discussed throughout this essay since the film was a complete letdown as it did not capture the feeling of the series as well as lived up to the nostalgia that I had from my childhood.