I know that this is bit of a time leap from the previous Cartoon Chatter about Fillmore! but I really have to bring up Avatar: The Last Airbender (Avatar). The Nickelodeon show became a quick favorite of mine after the first few episodes. As cartoons evolve and change for each generation, there are always a few that appeal to more than the kid audience—Avatar is one of these. Hit the jump for details.
The story behind Avatar is repeated at the beginning of each episode. Basically, the four nations, which derive their names from the four elements, had lived peacefully at one time. However, the Fire Nation ruined the momentary bliss by declaring war against the other kingdoms. The Avatar is able to "bend" all four elements but vanished long ago. Kitara and her brother Sokka of the Water Tribe discover the new Avatar, Aang hidden in a huge block of ice near their tribe. He and his flying bison Appa had been frozen for decades, so Aang is not prepared to take on the Fire Nation yet—he still has much to learn about the times and is only twelve years old. Together, the three journey to help Aang master the four elements so he can defeat the Fire Lord and restore peace to the nations. His greatest power is the "Avatar state" in which he can connect with all the other Avatars throughout history and borrow their knowledge while harnessing the power of the four elements. His arrow markings show that he is the Avatar and people they encounter take his appearance in different ways.
For a linear story, Avatar keeps the viewer completely engaged. There is a strong East Asian influence throughout the series in the animation, choice of written characters, morals, fighting and bending styles. Avatar deals with several different themes including death, poverty, war, childbirth, morality and destruction. These are heavy subjects for kids, but the series handles the points with creativity and thoughtfulness. The characters grow and change as time progresses which is truer to life than most cartoons.
Avatar spans three "books" focusing on Aang's mastery of the various style of bending. As he is already an airbender, he must learn to bend water, earth and fire. He is constantly on the run from Prince Zuko, the exiled prince of the Fire Nation. In the end, they become allies and fight his father and sister (the princess, Azula).
The cartoon was a huge success winning many awards and garnering much fame. It will be released as a motion picture this summer and the previews are excellent. If you have never watched Avatar before, I recommend renting the series, buying the entire thing (it's pricey) or watching the episodes on television. The animation is wonderful with lots of attention and detail paid to minor characters and backgrounds. The music is appropriate and the voice actors did a wonderful job bringing the characters to life. For a recent series, Avatar is one of the best cartoons I have ever watched.