Avatar: Classic Disney for the Digital Age

Published 5 years ago by

avatar one Avatar: Classic Disney for the Digital Age

[This Article is SPOILER-FREE]

I making this statement because I truly believe it: Avatar is a classic Disney-esque adventure as imagined by James Cameron. In my head, that basically translates to “A cliched but endearing tale-for-the-ages, with claws, fangs and lots of big guns.”

In the next few days, weeks (maybe even months) you’re going to be hearing all about what Avatar is and is not (check out our own official review HERE). You’ll hear the debate about whether it has lived up to the hype, whether the film has truly changed the CGI face of movies (it has) and whether the film is all that it could’ve been.

As far as that latter question goes, read on if you want to hear my breakdown.

The critical response to Avatar has generally been positive, if not similar: visually, the film is a spectacle that no movie-loving person should miss. You should experience Avatar - you’ll likely be hearing that word, “experience,” a lot – in  theaters, in 3D,  in IMAX if you can. What James Cameron has done, technically speaking, is truly worthy of the word, “magical.”

However, the script and story have many critics shaking their heads. They (including our own Vic Holtreman)  feel the story is a bit cliched, uninspired, two-dimensional, even naive and/or offensive in its depiction of humans as heartless militant oppressors and the Na’vi aliens as the proverbial “noble savages.” I confess, the story of Jake Sully’s (Sam Worthington) journey had even me joking to a friend that the only thing I learned from Avatar is that a century from now, you can still send one white man into an endangered indigenous culture and if he can find one hot native chick he likes, he’ll manage to save the day.

avatar jake neytiri 570x243 Avatar: Classic Disney for the Digital Age

Is Avatar‘s story perfect? No. Is the film throwing any worse stereotypes or simplistic morals at my young impressionable mind than Dumbo, The Jungle Book, Snow White, Aladdin, or The Lion King did? Certainly not. Fans keep saying they expected more from James Cameron – but then, Cameron himself has been saying all along that he wanted to make ‘an epic fantasy adventure for the global audience.’ And what has more appeal to people of all ages, from all over, than a simplistic Disney-style yarn?

Of course, a lot of people will argue that we’re supposed to be past the kind of cringe-worthy missteps and outdated notions we see in old Disney animated features – and there is some truth to that. But then again, Pixar – the studio which has risen to become “the new Disney” of the digital age – has been trying to tell more sophisticated “human” stories for sometime now. Their latest feature, UP, was fantastic – but how wide was the appeal of that often-depressing story? I know firsthand that a lot of kids had trouble with it…

avatar military jungle Avatar: Classic Disney for the Digital Age

In the end, Avatar is an old-school movie adventure, for better or for worse. It’s a bit simple in its concepts (good is good, bad is bad), a bit overly-romantic in its imaginings (earthy types are good, techie-types are – ironically enough – bad), a bit cliched in its story – man learns to love his enemy by seeing through his eyes – but then, your grandparents’ heartfelt nostalgic stories are never that insufferable, are they? Well, neither is a heartfelt nostalgic adventure as told by James Cameron. And the experience of seeing this film – there’s that word again – is undoubtedly worth the price of admission of ten other films with better scripts. So you tell me what’s worth your time at the movie theater this winter.

The ironic part about all this is if Avatar had turned out to be more Dark Knight than Iron Man (read: morally gray, narratively complicated with morally complex characters), I truly believe a resounding cry would have risen up from the ‘Net, with critics screaming, “Enough already with all boring stuff, we want to see the pretty pictures!

avatar close up Avatar: Classic Disney for the Digital Age“Deep story? I’m here so YOU can count the wrinkles in my CGI nose!”

Ah, the movie news business… Nothing else like it…

When the inevitable Avatar sequels are set into motion, then I feel like we’ll all be much more justified in our demands for a more sophisticated depiction of planet Pandora and its inhabitants. For now, it feels more like a lot of people are criticizing a baker who has cooked up a delicious new form of bread, while simultaneously licking crumbs from their collective fingers. But that’s just my opinion.

Don’t be left out of this debate a second longer. Run out and see Avatar starting at midnight tonight, December 18, 2009. Then come back and join in our spoiler discussion to let us know what you thought.

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  1. That’s a very interesting take, you have given an old codger something think about…

  2. You’ve also given a young codger something to think about (can codgers be young?)

    I absolutely agree that this film is in a similar vein to classic Disney, no moral greys, right off the bat you know who the bad guys are and who the good guys are. Sully (spoiler ahead) hardly even has much conflict when changing sides, for him it’s a fairly quick transition from jarhead to tree-hugger.

    But then in it’s simplicity, I think, is where the charm is held. I agree with Vic that I would have preferred a little less predictability in the story, but, well, there’s a reason The Dark Knight could be as cerebral as it was. It was a sequel. Nolan created his little world in Begins and so with TDK, he was able to play in it now, with a story that actually made people think (not a slight against Batman Begins).

    I think this is what Cameron has done here. Whether there will be a sequel or not (who are we kidding, it’s Fox we’re talking about, if it’s successful, and I feel it will be, there will be a sequel, even if Cameron doesn’t want one), if there is, we have our world, now lets play in it.

  3. Good and bad is BS..it’s all morally relavtive anyway..what I see as “bad” someone else might see as “not so bad” whereas another person might see “Good”..There is only cause and effect..every choice or action carries with it consequences..choice “A” caused effect “B”..

  4. Hopefully the disney comparison isn’t supposed to be taken too literally. Because I’ve been finally coming around and thinking I’ll give Avatar a shot in theaters, but now this alarms me because I’ve never been big on disney movies…

  5. @greenknight333

    Absolutely you’re right, in the real world good and bad is all subjective, I’m just saying, this movie, like many Disney movies, like to define them for you so you’re always clear of who the bad guys are and who the good guys are.

  6. Sorry, I’m not much of a fan of moral relativism.

    There is right and there is wrong.


  7. I agree with Vic. There’s no way you can argue that something like rape is “not that bad” just because maybe you can find someone who finds women to be so inferior that it’s ok to do something against their will…

  8. Has anyone actually read the newer reviews surfacing, is the story really as bad as they are saying? If so, is this just a special effects movie? Therefore, what is the difference between Avatar and say… 2012? Both are driven by effects

  9. @DrSamBeckett

    Most of the reviews simply say that the story is familiar. They don’t actually say that the story is BAD, just that it’s not something they’ve never seen before. Also, I haven’t read too much that the acting was poor. While 2012 was simply a bad story with bad acting.

    Just watch the damn movie and judge for yourself and stop trying so damn hard to hate it already, geez, lol.

  10. @Ken J

    I was trying harder to not hate it going in, but everything I am hearing has confirmed everything I had suspected, just one big special effect, lacklustre story, and dull acting. Except for Zoe Saldana, who apparently carries the film, but when she isnt on screen the movie really starts to fall down.
    Apparently Worthington is pretty bad in the movie, but that is the result of a bad character and poor scripting.

    Avatar is about one thing and one thing only, the effects. The story is tired and irrelevant.

    I’m still going to see it next week. Why you might ask, because James Cameron has given me a lot to enjoy over the years. If his name wasnt attached to this movie, I wouldnt care, and I suspect a lot of other people wouldnt either.

  11. You realize that nothing you say really means anything until you have watched it right?? LOL. I’m not going to say it is good because I don’t know, haven’t watched it, I’m saying watch it and judge for yourself. You’re reading what you want to read. If they are saying the story is BAD, I doubt they’ll be giving it 9′s and 10′s… Like I said, the reviews i’ve read simply say the story is unoriginal, it doesn’t say the story is bad. People compare it to Dances With Wolves. So are you saying Dances With Wolves had a bad story???

  12. Actually I quite like Dances With Wolves ( there is a secret Costner fan in all of us!), but I suppose what I mean by bad is unoriginal. They mean the same thing to me.

    Avatar was supposed to be revolutionary, but it should be amazing in all aspects, not just its effects.

  13. @ Beckett

    You (and others) are getting confused. That’s why I wrote this post.

    The story is FAMILIAR, CLASSIC, or CLICHED. Not BAD.

    Worthington is good in it.

    Stop believing what you hear and know one thing: this is something to experience in theaters. PERIOD. Every naysayer will prob still tell you to see it.

  14. @Kofi Outlaw

    I am going to see it, it is a spectacle movie. But even saying that it must be experienced in theatres proves an earlier point, what about DVD? Will it still stand up with no 3D effects on someones tv at home? Movies should extend beyond their theatrical run and into the home, how will something like Avatar hold up at home?

  15. OMG, just watch the freakin movie… How does it benefit you to continue to try to get people to agree with you that the movie sucks when you haven’t even seen it? It’s like some unhealthy obsession, just watch the damn thing and STFU until then. That’s right Sam, I told you to STFU!! hahahaha. I’m kidding of course, but seriously, just watch it. If you still think it sucks after that, then fine, it’s your opinion, share it, but until then, you’re really just wasting your breath and time…

  16. @DrSamBeckett

    What is revolutionary about the film IS the tech, not the story. The story is, as Ken J and Kofi have stated, basic, not bad.

    Of course if you’re a Conservative that’s very sensitive to “messages” in movies, it might torque you a bit. I’m one but I just decided to let it go. 8)


  17. Come on Vic the message your referring to is the driving force of the story….

    Let me tell all of you that I had no intention of liking Avatar,,, sure the story is derivative of “Dances with Wolves” but it doesn’t matter the visuals WERE FRACKEN AMAZING AND THE STORY PULLS YOU IN.
    This will be huge!

  18. I’m pretty sure that’s what I said in my review. 8)


  19. After a year of following this movie and reading every blog for hours every day, I can say I was not dissapointed. The story wasnt spectacular, but the environment and they way it made you feel was. This is a must see movie, I guarantee that anyone who sees this will feel like they have spent their money well. THIS is the movie I have been waiting for.

  20. “Cliched” too often translates to “bad” for me. But I am happy that Avatar has been able to revolutionize CGI. (It has done that right?)

    But I am not in the mood to go to another movie where the military is portrayed as being made up of packs of liars and murderers. Nor do I want to see a film where style is chosen over substance. Cameron chose to make the movie that way, as is his right as a creative force in Hollywood; I’m not taking issue with that. From all accounts, he achieved what he set out to do, which apparently meant a film with fantastic CGI and a thin storyline and not much else to its name.

    The reviews I have read are not heartening. I have to say that I honestly don’t care about special effects. When I go to a movie, I want a good story with strong characters, and special effects are a pretty (sparkly?) bonus. Though I do have to wonder why it is too much to ask to have BOTH in a movie. (C’mon, Star Trek managed it pretty damn well.)

    Since this article is coached in terms of “good vs. evil,” I would also ask where the “good” is in portraying the humans’ military force as a greedy, cold-hearted killing machine whose soldiers are incapable of basic empathy (except, of course, for the hero, Who Will See the Error of His Ways and win the heart of the native hot chick) especially when the trailers make it obvious that said military is a stand-in for the American military (as made clear by the accents and attitudes of the soldiers).

    I’m probably just oversensitive, and too literally minded to appreciate a movie that will no doubt go down as a an exquisite work of art. Nonetheless, I’m going to have to give this film a pass.

  21. @Luipaard, the military isn’t the evil in Avatar, sure there the ones pulling the trigger on defenceless aliens but its the leader (Colonel G ) he’s the one that’s portrayed as the villain. He has no empathy and that’s a powerful message whether you stand for America of not. There’s a thing called an illegal order and this guy had no boundaries because he was off on another world. No congress no media to report what he was doing. You could clearly tell even his men were afraid to question his orders.

    There’s also a powerful message that seemed to fly right over everyones head and that’s how our military is working for a private corporation. This is NOT the role of the military and it implies that the US in the future is (like it is now) run by Mega Corporations.

    No go see the movie that’s an order!!!

  22. This movie is classic. Shows the coldness of corporations and why the majority of the human race deserves extinction.

  23. I rarely go to the movies anymore. They cost way too much, and it’s much easier, cost effective, and convenient to wait a few months and Netflix them and watch them on my home theater.

    Only really special movies do I go to see in a movie theater.

    Avatar is one of those movies.

    I saw it today with my kids and my reaction was just “WOW!” You’re kidding yourself if you think this is a not a movie worth seeing. If you go to see only film this year, it should be Avatar. It is that good.

    It’s a safe bet that most people will regret not watching this one on the big screen.

  24. Alright. So as other screenrant users may be aware from my recent post, I was very unsure about Avatar. I decided to give it a shot though and went to see it today. I loved it!!! If anyone is hesitant like I was, just go see it! It is definitely worth it in my opinion.

  25. 790,

    RDA employed a private security force made of former military personnel.

  26. I totally agree with this article. The critics will always find something that they don’t like. What James Cameron has done is amazing. I am still so excited to see this movie!

  27. I saw it last night as i have to say yes its very pretty to look at but, visuals and fancy 3d can only get you so far before you need a story line attached to it. Dont get the wrong the images are amazing but i didnt feel a connection to the characters that i did with say ” UP ” i felt more attuned to them then i did with this movie. It was just too far prerfect. For anyone who has spent some time in the woods or gone for the lucky few that have visited true jungles, this felt far to static. There is not wind in the trees, for all the colors there was very little life and sounds when in the forest. IF he was really trying to create a living beathing world why not then give it life it felt vacant. Sure in some scenes you do see the out bugor some wacky looking animal flying around. But you hardly see any type of life in it. The scences in the millitrary base all the shots where they are filmed facing the main forest in what apperars to be a lunch room, they all feature the same gunship taking off and flying the same pattern. it was like background animation on old school cartoons. just keep replaying the same background. The 3d was well done but a few times it was hard to keep track of what was going on. But motion capture? I dont know about that, what was the point when they were in full CGI for the majority of the movie? they could have saved all this money and just animated the whole movie like final fantasty. It was a disapointment not from a story point of view because what the heck was this precious metal used for? how did mankind find it? how did we end up in pandora? why avatars? if manking was already in contact with them and learning from them could they not do more exploration? why hunt for this metal just in the part of the planet? to many plot holes for it to really come together and make a great movie. the ending was for the most part rather half hearted. they let them go yada yada? really? ummm dont you think they will come back and just wipe them out? and if manking has gotten tot he point of being able to travel to distant worlds and see other peoples dont you think they would have better weapons the just daisy cutters? some sort of space weapon they could just shoot from space and take them all out? if we want to be even more tech about it, how is that the navi and the humans never got sick from each other? natives in north america got the cold and where almost wiped out? what about a complete and totaly different species? as good as it looks and for all the hype that was played out, this movie is failing to deliver on what was promised. The article that was written here for the language that was created for the movie was also just blah…..i dont know i know i am going to be flamed for all this but lets get past they hype it was pretty to look at but in the end i didnt feel that it was worth it.

  28. We can talk about the effects all day long. Yippie it took 15 years and 200 million dollars, but if you don’t have a fresh story to tell… Then what’s the point? Cameron should have just helped with effects for a GOOD movie! Avatar isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It deserves any technical awards at the Golden Globes or Oscars, and maybe even a nomination for writing or Sam Worthington, but best picture? No way.

  29. Going to the movies looking for this proverbial “new story” is a a fantasy. All great stories have already been told — Lit 101. Movies just remix great stories.

    District 9 – “original” movie, basically the same story as Avatar (man learns compassion for his alien enemy by ‘walking in his skin.’ It was just the same story told in a unique way.

    Cameron didn’t want to tell a “new” story. He wanted to bring back the tried-and-true adventure movie tale. And I disagree – the jungle IS very much alive. I don’t know where you saw the film, but the screen I saw it on had a huge screen and kick-ass sound system. There were jungle sounds and little sights galore. I suggest a second viewing.