Avatar: The Last Airbender

All three seasons on DVD and streaming on Netflix.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is definitely a children’s show. Unlike the Pixar movies or some of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, which seem to have an adult sensibility and adult rhythms underlying the animation, Avatar follows the familiar contours of kids’ programming: a single strongly expressed theme in each episode; straightforward plotting; goofy, broad humor. And yet, as the show progresses, complexities reveal themselves beneath the simplicities. The morals of the story, though transparently conveyed, are more challenging, sometimes more unsettling, than typical kids’ fare. It took most of the first season for me to settle into the guileless storytelling, even longer for the boisterous child hero Aang to endear himself to me, but the vivid Japanese-style animation held my attention in the meantime. Eventually, I could see why so many people love this show so deeply—and why M. Night Shyamalan’s widely reviled live-action adaptation of the first season is such a travesty.