by Ashley Chilek
Avatar the Last Airbender has recently made a long-awaited return to Netflix, where it instantly overtook the #1 spot for most-watched show and has managed to remain in Netflix’s top ten most-watched shows since. Now fifteen years old, the popular children’s series continues to be a fan-favorite because of its animation, music, and story lines.
Here are some of my favorite aspects and themes (if you haven’t seen the show, I tried my best to avoid spoilers, but just in case, this is your “spoiler alert”).
The heroes are children. This teaches our youth that it doesn’t matter how old (or young!) you are, what matters is a compassionate heart and a spirit of justice moved to action. Anyone can make a difference. And in this show, it’s a twelve-year-old Aang and his friends who save the world.
POC and people with disabilities are represented. And they’re main characters! The diversity and inclusion provides role models to kids who don’t always get to see themselves represented on television. In this line, not everyone in the show has super powers, and they show how that’s okay! Everyone is treated with respect and dignity, each bringing something unique to the table.
The villain gets a redemption arc. It’s all right to change your opinion when you learn something new. You don’t have to think or do the things you’ve always done because it’s what you did in the past. You aren’t your parents, and you aren’t your past: ultimately, you decide your destiny. (Along the way, a warmhearted uncle constantly reminds us of this, and that everyone is worthy of patience, love and sympathy.)
The filler episodes show love and kindness. Aang and his friends always stand up for other people, even when it inconveniences themselves or puts their own plans at risk. They aren’t in the business of trading lives.
It talks about hard things. While its target audience is older elementary and younger middle school-aged kids, the beloved show doesn’t shy away from hard-to-discuss topics (sexism, neglect, loss, and genocide make up a few of these). The show approaches these situations with honesty and tact, keeping it age-appropriate and still allowing their young viewers an opportunity to learn about serious issues.
The good guy doesn’t have to kill the bad guy to win. The culmination of the show results in an epic fight between the big bad and Aang. But leading up to this battle, Aang maintains that he won’t kill the bad guy, despite pressure from his friends. Risking his own life in the process, Aang searches for another way to defeat him, because he believes in the immeasurable value of human life.
If you haven’t seen it yet, I would definitely encourage you to watch the series because of its life-affirming message and the compassion that is shown to and by the characters, who face complicated situations and make complex decisions. The show dives into the depths of why someone would make the “wrong” decision, and it doesn’t take the easy route out by just saying, “Well, they’re the bad guy.” Humans make mistakes, and when they inevitably do, they still deserve love and benevolence. Avatar the Last Airbender makes sure that the audience sees that.