We all knew there was something special about Avatar from the start. Forget the witty humor or the brilliantly choreographed action scenes. There was far more to The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra than that. Both series’ seemed super-charged with an ingredient that has been missing from most forms of entertainment these days.
That ingredient is simply and most commonly referred to as a message.
Ask yourself, what do you learn from entertainment these days? Money is awesome, right? Drugs can be cool? If we break up, it’s all your fault? These three ideas are the norm when it comes to delivering a “meaningful” message through certain forms of entertainment.
When it comes to today’s entertainment, music and television are more along the lines of meaning-less. So what if you enjoy listening to Taylor Swift or watching A.N.T Farm? It’s not a bad thing; the only issue is that neither do justice in conveying a plausible message. That’s the difference between a show like Avatar and a show like A.N.T Farm: Avatar conveys a meaningful message whereas A.N.T Farm does not.
The best part about it is that Mike and Bryan, Avatar’s creators, actually revolve their show around a message. Mike DiMartino recently opened up a WordPress blog of his own in which he blogs about Storytelling. His recent post, titled Story Brain, was quite intriguing and it motivated me to leave a comment asking how the message of each episode or season is formed. I asked whether the creators sat down to form a message or if the message just formed on its own due to the depth of the show.
Mike actually replied to my comment and gave a rather thoughtful response:
Usually, the story comes together only once we have the main theme or message figured out. At the start of a season there is often a several week period in the writing room where we throw out any and all ideas — what we’d like to see the characters do, random jokes, cool action sequences, etc. But it doesn’t all gel until we can hone in on what a particular season is really about. For Book 1, things came together once we knew it would be about Korra’s struggle with self-identity. Not that we had it all figured out from the start, but we created Amon specifically to test Korra with that main idea — who would she be if her bending (the main thing she identified herself with) was taken away. That’s why “The Voice in the Night” became one of my favorite episodes, because it explored her fear and vulnerability.
This response that I received from Mike made me respect the creators even more than I did previously. On Mike’s latest blog post, someone pointed out how awesome it was for the creators to have a set end to Avatar rather than have the show “limp” its way to cancellation. The reason that Mike and Bryan do this is because they know that once their message has been conveyed and their story has been told, there is no reason to drag it out.
There is no reason to milk the show for every cent that it’s worth because they respect it too much.
Shows like A.N.T Farm or Jessie are just a few examples of shows that will ultimately “limp” their way to cancellation. The show’s creators don’t have an end vision of their show; they have an end vision of their bank account.
So why are The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra so great? They have meaning. They have value. They have a purpose. They focus on bettering their viewers by conveying a message. Avatar wasn’t created for 22 minutes of senseless humor and entertainment. Avatar was created to convey important messages that are meant to last a life time.
Forgiveness, Non-Violence, Self-Recreation, Hope and Destiny.
These are just a few of the messages and themes Mike and Bryan have conveyed to their fans over the past few years. If you happen to watch Avatar for the action and humor alone, I have a favor to ask of you. When Book 2 airs sometime this year (April?), I want you to watch The Legend of Korra at a deeper level and try to capture the true meaning of the show.
After all, it’s not like a message just happens to work its way into Avatar. Mike and Bryan plan for it. They ensure that the show revolves around it. The least we can do is try to recognize it.
Please leave your thoughts down below. I’m always interested in reading them, and I’m sure our great community is too.