STUDIO:  Nickelodeon
MSRP: $16.99
RUNNING TIME:  125 Minutes
- Audio Commentary by Creators and Crew

The Pitch

It’s kind of like Captain Planet, except with the main character looking more like a Buddhist monk than Sting in Dune.

The Humans

All sorts of elemental shitkickers, some dragons, a flying animal thing, a spider monkey-lookin’ thing with bunny ears, assassins, etc.

The lengths some people go to get their DVD copies of Drive and Party of Five Season Three signed.

The Nutshell

The general story of Avatar is that the main character Anng is the new Avatar sent to bring peace to a civilization ravaged by the war brought forth by the Firelords.  His destiny is to master all four elements (Earth, Fire, Water, Wind) and then take down the evil Firelord. This particular volume finds Anng leading the charge as the nations try to take Fire Nation down by storm during an eclipse when their powers are MIA, but the Firelord is nowhere to be found. Post retreat, the kids try to regroup and formulate a plan of attack while also looking for a Firelord to teach Anng the firebending ropes. (HINT: There’s a guy on the cover holding fireballs.  Just sayin’.)

  “Water!”                 “Wind!”           “Earth!”
“Where’s Heart?”
“Reunion tour.”

The Lowdown

My familiarity with Avatar the Last Airbender was limited solely to its title and the fact that M. Night Shymalan would be helming the big screen adaptation*, neither of which were particularly impressive. I mean, airbender? Doesn’t sound like an amazing talent on this end. Anyone not inanimate can lay claim to airbending, including me as I type this right now. I’m bending that shit like Beckham.  Luckily the show made up for this perceived inferiority by being a pretty exciting blend of Eastern philosophy, dragons, war, father issues and people being punched and/or kicked. It’s the type of show that probably veers too close to the realm of children for me to ever feel comfortable making it appointment viewing, but I’d have no problem weaning my theoretical youngsters on this type of programming as a type of gateway drug into the kung fu/eastern mysticism genres of motion picture. 

Firebenders learn the peril of self-love very quickly.

One of the things I appreciated about the show is that the characters weren’t static throughout, with a simple bad guy/good guy dichotomy being established and followed to the T from the outset. Instead it seems that characters can redeem themselves from past transgressions in this world and the idea that doing bad doesn’t make you inherently evil or define you for the rest of time is one I can appreciate being passed on to children. It also has a strong sense of narrative, partially helped at least by the fact that the creators seem to have an endgame set in place so as to ensure this series doesn’t start spinning its wheels and become soap operatic with characters’ allegiances constantly shifting to accommodate plot resuscitation. 

And people said Falkor would never find work again.

And the action scenes! My god, the action scenes. The biggest thing this show has going for it by far is its fantastically kinetic action sequences where the animators pull up their sleeves and let their world breathe a little. The animation is fluid and expansive, meaning you’re not going to get the poorly rendered, slow-moving sequences of decades past and instead are treated to a burst of fantastically captured choreography, never devolving into chaos and always keeping you abreast of the geography of each sequence. Each character and their mastery of certain elements make for a couple of thrilling sequences, when the gang is attempting to flag down an evil princess in a cave by using the earth around them as a weapon despite her evasion techniques and an attempted prison break on a transport car hanging hundreds of feet above the air. While the character development is light years ahead of most of the Saturday morning fare I was subjected to, it’s these particular kick-ass sequences where the pangs of nostalgic regret kick in most powerfully.

That isn’t to say it’s all peachy for this show though. A lot of the attempts at humor are broad beyond belief and sometimes feel shoehorned in so as to not make the proceedings as dramatic and tension-filled as they are to make it more palatable for a younger audience. Understandable, but it detracts from the series on the whole.  But there isn’t a whole lot of negative to be said for this show, which was a nice little surprise. It blends its characters, message and action quite adeptly and is a perfectly suitable way for your child to avoid physical activity during their free time. Recommended (as a show).

The Package

The cover art is pretty cool and showcases the primary arc encased in this handful of episodes. The disc comes packaged with a mini-comic that promises to be concluded in the next volume. This disc looks and sounds as good as animated television should these days, and doesn’t suffer from the poor transferring of our shows of children’s past. The only extras to speak of are some agreeable audio commentaries on the first two episodes by the show’s co-creators and executive producers. However, there’s really no excuse for staggering the rollout of each season of Avatar by releasing these single disc collections instead of simply selling the season long box sets. It’s crass and the extent to which I disagree with this method is reflected in my final score. I can’t recommend picking up this disc in good conscience, but I can say that if you were to throw this on your Netflix queue, there’s a good chance you would like it with the added bonus of your young ones going apeshit for it.

“Aw, man!  M. Night?  Really?  Alright, let’s start working on our Zooey Deschanel reaction shots.”

*My thoughts on this are that this movie is going to cost serious coin to be adapted and I’m interested in seeing what M. Night can bring to such a kinetic property having never seen him direct action so straightforward as this before. In his hands, should one expect some bloated ode to the messages in the show without indulging in what makes the show so fun?

4.0 out of 10