Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005) — PICK
Not to be confused with the James Cameron film, Avatar: The Last Airbender (newly available in a 15th-anniversary Blu-ray edition; also available on DVD) is an imaginative, high-spirited anime-influenced animated series (23-minute episodes running three seasons) that offered my children’s generation something of what Star Wars offered my generation: an enthralling mythology about a young hero slowly learning to channel his mysterious gifts to fight a tyrannical empire.
Avatar proposes a world composed of four “nations” associated with the four elements. Specially gifted members of each tribe (“benders”) study a specialized martial art entailing mental control over their tribe’s element.
The story centers around Aang, a once-in-a-generation hero called the Avatar capable of mastering all four elements. As a native Airbender, Aang (like his flying bison Appa, who is reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki’s Cat Bus from My Neighbor Totoro) is particularly gifted at defying gravity — a talent evocative of Chinese wuxia martial-arts movies (e.g., Crouching Tiger), Jedi knights and various Miyazaki movies.
One caveat is that the Avatar, at least, is linked to past Avatars via some form of reincarnation (though reincarnation isn’t more generally affirmed). Catholic parents will want to talk about the series’ make-believe in relation to Christian eschatology.
CAVEAT SPECTATOR: Mild thematic elements, including fantasy violence. Kids and up.