A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that even though this live-action fantasy based on Nickelodeon's popular Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon TV series was directed by The Sixth Sense's M. Night Shyamalan, it doesn't have much content that's inappropriate for the show's elementary-school-aged fans. There's some fighting and violence, but it's not bloody or even particularly scary. And one character gives up her life in order to save her people, but otherwise there's nothing too dark. Language and substance use aren't issues, and there's only very mild flirting between two characters, who kiss once. It's worth noting that there has been some controversy around the movie's casting, with fans objecting to Caucasian actors playing characters who are Asian in the TV series.
What's the story?
Based on Nickelodeon's popular Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon TV series, THE LAST AIRBENDER follows titular final Airbender Aang (Noah Ringer), who's a special master of all elements -- fire, water, earth, and air -- and has the power to unite the people of all four nations. He's been frozen in a block of ice for 100 years, during which time all of the other Airbenders were killed by greedy Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis), whose nation created weaponry that has enslaved and terrorized the Earth and Water nations. When Aang is discovered by the final Waterbender, Katara (Nicola Peltz), and her older brother, Sokka (the Twilight movies' Jackson Rathbone), they agree to help him escape and free the nations. Meanwhile, the Fire Lord's banished son, Prince Zuko (Dev Patel), believes that if he can find Aang and deliver him to his father, he'll be welcomed once again among his people ... but the Fire Lord's military commander, Zhao (comedian Aasif Mandvi), wants to beat Zuko to the prize.
Is it any good?
There's little joy or wonder or even humor here -- all fundamentals in a movie for kids. Director M. Night Shyamalan has a big problem: He's had five chances to prove that The Sixth Sense wasn't the film equivalent of a one-hit wonder. Even if you're being generous and say that Signs was under-appreciated, that still leaves four other films since Sense that have been at best underwhelming and at worst downright awful (The Happening). The Last Airbender is at least the former, probably because it was an adaptation of a widely beloved cartoon series, but for a movie aimed at kids, it takes it self way too seriously.
Rathbone, who plays vampire Jasper Cullen in the Twilight movie saga, is only slightly less cold and stiff in this movie -- even though Sokka is supposed to be the comic relief. The stilted dialogue is definitely to blame; it doesn't do any of the actors any favors. Only the Avatar himself, young Noah Ringer, shows some emotion, but it's not enough to carry the movie. And even the talented Patel, who made audiences cry with his performance in Slumdog Millionaire and laugh aloud in the BBC series Skins, mopes around with a huge chip on his shoulder. But all of that will probably be forgivable for the movie's target audience of 8- to 10-year-old boys, who are likely to enjoy the live-action manifestation of Avatar no matter how many of their parents find it dull and laughable.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how The Last Airbender movie compares to The Last Airbender cartoon. How are the characters different?
How does the violence in this movie compare to others you've seen? Does this kind of media violence have more or less impact than what's in other fantasy/action movies? Why?
Aang, like most great heroes, is on a journey. Who are his helpers? Who are his nemeses? What does he need to do overcome his obstacles?
- In theaters: July 1, 2010
- On DVD or streaming: November 16, 2010
- Cast: Cliff Curtis, Dev Patel, Jackson Rathbone, Noah Ringer
- Director: M. Night Shyamalan
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures
- Run time: 103 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: fantasy action violence
Themes & Topics
For kids who love fantasy
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.