After Netflix added Avatar the Last Airbender (sometimes shortened to just Avatar) to their list of many tv shows subscribers can binge back in the spring of 2020, the cartoon experienced a resurgence of popularity amongst teens and young adults. Many who did not see the show when it was new (in the years 2005-2008) were finally able to see the show they might have seen others talk about online. Others who saw the show fifteen years ago were now able to watch it again and be reminded of what drew them in in the first place. And for those of us who have continuously enjoyed Avatar, it meant more people to talk with about something we loved.
With this newfound popularity and enlarged fanbase, many of the show’s old points of discussion and arguments also grew in popularity. However, there is one thing I keep seeing repeated around that I never saw previous to the Netflix resurgence: “Avatar: The Last Airbender isn’t a kid’s show!” At first, I ignored it. Sometimes, when people said something wasn’t “for kids,” they meant it’s not only for kids. It was typically said to naysayers who proclaim they won’t watch or read something because it’s aimed at children, believing that something for children cannot also be enjoyed by anyone over ten. In that case, yes, Avatar is not just for kids; people of all ages can enjoy the show. But as I kept seeing “it isn’t a kid’s show!” thrown around, it noticed this wasn’t what was meant.
“Why didn’t the show do x?” “Well, that would have been graphic, and it’s meant for children,” “It’s not a kid’s show!” is one example. Somehow in the past year, people came to believe that this cartoon which originally aired on Nickelodeon during the daytime (not during the nighttime adult version of the channel, Nick @ Nite), wasn’t meant for children, but for the primarily adult viewers who watch it now. While some might think this misunderstanding is harmless, I believe it does a great show a severe injustice.
One of the things that makes Avatar: The Last Airbender such a phenomenal show is that it’s for kids. Things such as war and what it does to families and people across the world, genocide, discrimination, environmentalism, corrupt governments, and physical disabilities are just some of the things discussed within the cartoon’s three seasons. It’s not done in a preachy, inorganic, and hypocritical way that some shows nowadays try to deliver their messages, but in ways that flowed with the plot and didn’t contradict its own morals. That in itself is a positive thing that makes it good, but the fact that it is all done in a manner that children can understand and even relate to makes it more remarkable.
Because of these heavy themes, people like to say it can’t possibly be a children’s show. As long as serious themes are put in a way that children can both understand and not be traumatized by, they can be in a show for children. To say that heavy topics cannot be in a children’s cartoon is both an injustice to an entire genre of shows and children’s intelligence. If Avatar was meant for adults, the darker topics in it should have been discussed in a different manner than what they did, meaning the show isn’t as good as it is said to be because it didn’t treat its adult audience as mature but as if they were just smart children. The show is also filled with jokes and other comedic moments. Although comedy can be done in a dramatic adult show, the number of jokes put into Avatar is supposed to keep children interested in it. The number of jokes in Avatar would make it a comedy if it was for adults, making the darker themes out of place.
Ironically, saying that Avatar: The Last Airbender isn’t for kids because it’s so great means those who say they won’t watch a show aimed at children correct. If such a fantastic show can be made for children, then there’s no reason for people to defend something as not being “just for kids,” it will become common knowledge that everyone can appreciate certain stories. Avatar is a children’s show that all ages can enjoy. And that is more than okay, in fact, it’s excellent! It is part of the show’s charm. It doesn’t matter if one is defending or praising the cartoon; separating Avatar: The Last Airbender from the children’s genre does it a disservice in multiple ways.