Avatar

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Avatar Movie Poster Image
Action-heavy epic has dazzling effects, familiar story.
  • PG-13
  • 2009
  • 161 minutes
Parents recommendPopular with kids

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 227 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 531 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Overall, the movie's message is that we could all stand to learn something from a (fictional) peaceful, nature-loving alien population. Strong environmental and pro-peace themes. Some viewers may see the message of occupying a foreign land to usurp their cultural riches as a political dig at America's involvement in the Middle East.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Several characters make difficult but moral choices. Jake chooses to defend the Na'vi even though it's against orders to do so and means he must fight (and kill) fellow human soldiers. Neytiri, Grace, and Trudy all make personal sacrifices to help the clan; they're strong, courageous, and assertive female characters. (In both the human and Na'vi populations, female characters are just as brave and important as the males -- even the Na'vi mating ritual requires that a female accept/choose the male who chooses her.) On the flip side, the Colonel and corporate boss Parker are portrayed as bloodthirsty and greedy.

Violence

Characters (supporting and extras) die due to explosions, bullet wounds, arrows (some treated with toxins), precipitous falls, and asphyxiation. There are several intense scenes involving frightening Pandoran creatures and plants, as well as tension between Jake's rogue group of pro-Na'vi humans and the rest of the humans sent to Pandora.

Sex

Many longing looks between Jake's avatar and Neytiri, which eventually leads to kissing and "mating" (only kissing and touching are seen on screen). The Na'vi's humanoid bodies are barely dressed.

Language

The word "s--t" is said several times (as well as its brothers, "bull s--t" and "holy s--t"). Other colorful language includes "goddamn," "piss," limp-dicked," "hell," "oh my God," "ass," and mild insults like "stupid," "ignorant," etc.

Consumerism

No product placement in the movie, but there are dozens of tie-in merchandising deals tied to the title -- including toys and books aimed at young kids.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Sigourney Weaver's character, Grace, smokes cigarettes and somewhat glamorizes the activity.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know James Cameron's sci-fi epic, Avatar, may be too intense (and long, at 161 minutes) for some tweens. There are several effects-heavy battle and hunting sequences that include missile-launching military aircraft, nerotoxin-laced arrows, scary Pandora-dwelling fauna and flora, and lots of explosions -- all of which has more impact when the movie is seen in 3-D. Salty wartime language includes many uses of "s--t" and comparable words. As in his previous epics, Cameron infuses the action-driven story with strong female characters and a morality tale centered in a romantic relationship -- though the human-Na'vi relationship in question gets a bit complicated, because the human is actually in his avatar. The romantic leads' chemistry is made more sensual by the barely dressed bodies of the Na'vi. (Note: Fans of the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender should know that this movie is in no way connected to that show or the movie based on it.)

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 5, 6, 10, and 13 year old Written bymdpwilliams February 16, 2010
Okay, they're alien life forms, but their bodies resemble humans completely and the lack of clothing (bare breasts and nipples) were a problem for me. Mos... Continue reading
Parent of a 6, 10, and 10 year old Written byboyzintx January 10, 2010
After reading many reviews and talking to many other parents, I finally took my kids to see Avatar in 3D. They are boys aged 10 and 6. I did not think the viole... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old February 4, 2010
best movie ever
Teen, 15 years old Written byThe Nerdinator August 3, 2013

"We're not in Kansas anymore..."

This movie is amazing. The acting and CGI sucks you in. The script and plot are unforgettable. I don't see why people keep saying the story wasn't or... Continue reading

What's the story?

In the 22nd century, wheelchair-bound Marine Jake Scully (Sam Worthington) embarks on a corporate-run, military-backed experiment in which he and a select group of academics -- led by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) -- can fully control avatars that look exactly like the Na'vi: the lean, blue-skinned native population of a distant world called Pandora. On his first outing as his AVATAR, Jake is saved by Na'vi female Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) -- and then captured by her clan. They decide to spare Jake's life as long as he agrees to learn the Na'vi ways from Neytiri. He does; but then he's told by maniacal Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) that he'll be spying on the Na'vi to make it easier to remove them from their home, an ancestral tree that's rooted above a deposit of an unbelievably valuable substance called "Unobtainium" (pun intended). As Jake becomes more and more involved with Neytiri and her people, he's forced to choose between following orders and helping the Na'vi.

Is it any good?

What if the director of the highest-grossing movie ever made (Titanic) spent a rumored $500 million on a spectacular futuristic sci-fi epic and no one other than hardcore fanboys went to see it? Most of Hollywood would probably be secretly gleeful that the self-proclaimed King of the World had flopped. The good news for James Cameron -- and epic movie lovers everywhere -- is that Avatar isn't a flop. It's more like the story of Dances with Wolves crossed with the breathtaking visual effects of Lord of the Rings and the love story of Titanic, with a splash of the "turning native" aspect of Apocalypse Now thrown in to spice things up. Even though Cameron seems to have gone to the same hammy dialogue school of screenwriting as George Lucas, he can certainly immerse an audience in a thoroughly enjoyable spectacle. Every shot of Pandora is amazingly detailed, from floating mountains to flying beasts to the feline-featured, Native American-inspired Na'vi. The movie's scale is undeniably impressive.

Cameron owes a huge debt to his movie's female characters, all of whom are much more interesting than the stereotypical men -- especially the outlandishly evil Quaritch and Giovanni Ribisi's greedy corporate overseer. Weaver and Michele Rodriguez (as soldier Trudy Chacon), like Aliens' Ripley or Terminator's Sarah Connor, could take on anything or any man, and Saldana follows up a memorable turn as Uhura in Star Trek with another strong performance as Neytiri. It's quite a feat to create romantic electricity between fictional alien creatures, but Saldana and Worthington manage it surprisingly well. If you allow yourself to get lost into Cameron's Pandora, it's impossible not to root for the Na'vi (or Neytiri and Jake). Part sci-fi, part romance, all James Cameron, this is the sci-fi epic that women will get sucked into enjoying as much as the guys.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Avatar's revolutionary special effects. Do they overwhelm or support the movie's story? How does the portrayal of the Na'vi affect the movie's emotional impact?

  • What themes does Cameron consistently work into his films? Compare the strong female characters in Avatar, Terminator, and Titanic. Any similarities?

  • What political messages is Cameron exploring in the movie? How are its themes relevant to what's going on in today's world? Do you think these messages will stand the test of time?

Movie details

For kids who love sci-fi

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