Roger Ebert’s Comments on The Last Airbender and Animation

It’s been established that I don’t really like film critics. It’s not a personal thing, for the most part, I tend to disagree with the way they review things. Having said that, I do hold certain ones in high regard, Roger Ebert being one of them. He’s pretty much seen everything at this point so he knows what he’s talking about when he says a film is pants. That’s not to say that you too will find it horrible, heck, he only gave one thumb up to How to Train Your Dragon and I absolutely loved it!

I am not certain whether or not Ebert is partial to animation or not, suffice to say that he does review almost all animated films being widely released. However, he is spot on with his review of The Last Airbender. He nails the movie itself, but his commentary on why it shouldn’t have been live-action hits the bullseye.

Leaving aside his thoughts on 3-D, the actors and the script, Ebert dives straight to what he sees a a fatal decision on behalf of the producers:

The first fatal decision was to make a live-action film out of material that was born to be anime. The animation of the Nickelodeon TV series drew on the bright colors and “clear line” style of such masters as Miyazaki, and was a pleasure to observe.

I tend to agree. Animated TV shows normally have a tough enough time succeeding on the big screen in animated form. To ask them to simultaneously make the jump to live-action is beyond even the best cartoons and Avatar is no exception.

Ebert declares his admiration for the clean, anime-influenced style of the cartoon. While it didn’t exactly set the animated world on fire, the show did draw deserved praise for its clever mixture of western animation skills and eastern looks. To the best of my knowledge, you can’t do something similar with live-action, unless of course your name is Quentin Tarantino.

Ebert also notes:

“It’s in the very nature of animation to make absurd visual sights more plausible. “

Which is why we can relate to a family with yellow skin and a talking sponge among other things. However, when taken to live-action, it is a tall task to ask audiences to accept circumstances and settings as being real. Sure we know they aren’t, but at least in animation we don’t expect them to be, in live-action we do. And no matter how technically perfect they appear, they still don’t seem real.

Would an animated version of The Last Airbender have been a better idea? Perhaps. It would certainly appeal to more fans of the original show and I am certain that it would not age as much as this new film surely will (think how old Lord of the Rings is starting to look, despite the bleeding edge technology that it used during production). As Ebert notes at the end of his review:

This material should have become an A-list animated film.

Except it isn’t. Let’s remember that animated films of animated TV shows make much more sense than live-action drivel.