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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Overall, movie's message is that we could all stand to learn something from a population that's different from our own. Strong environmental and pro-peace themes. Some viewers may see the message of occupying a foreign land to usurp their cultural riches as a commentary on Western imperialism or United States' involvement in global politics.
Positive Role Models
Several characters make difficult but moral choices. Jake chooses to support the Na'vi even though it's against orders to do so and means he must fight (and kill) fellow human soldiers. Neytiri, Grace, and Trudy all make personal sacrifices to help the clan; they're strong, courageous, assertive characters. (In both human and Na'vi populations, female characters are brave and important -- even the Na'vi mating ritual requires that both partners equally accept/choose each other.) On the flip side, the Colonel and corporate boss Parker are portrayed as bloodthirsty and greedy.
Although humans on the base are racially diverse, majority of main characters are White. They use offensive terms and stereotypes when talking about the Indigenous population of Pandora, and the military engages in imperialist violence. These scenes, intended to encourage racial/ethnic equality and show value of treating other groups with respect, only partially succeed because, while the Na'vi ultimately triumph, they do so only by following the guidance of outsiders. Violent human colonizers are ultimately ejected from Pandora, but film glosses over how the Na'vi environment and population have been permanently damaged by even well-meaning human scientists and allies. Main character Jake has a visible disability: He uses a wheelchair and is initially teased and treated as an inconvenience. But he easily moves around the base in his wheelchair and asserts control over himself when others try to touch or move him without his consent. Women and female Na'vi characters are important in the story, hold prominent social roles such as scientists and spiritual leaders. No body size diversity. All romantic relationships are between male and female Na'vi.
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Violence & Scariness
Characters (supporting and extras) die due to explosions, bullet wounds, arrows (some treated with toxins), precipitous falls, asphyxiation. Several intense scenes involving frightening Pandoran animals and plants, as well as tension between Jake's rogue group of pro-Na'vi humans and the rest of the humans sent to Pandora.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Many longing looks between Jake's avatar and Neytiri, which eventually leads to kissing and a marital "mating" ritual (kissing and touching are seen on screen). Na'vi clothing makes parts of their humanoid bodies visible. Jake and Neytir's relationship is briefly referred to as "getting tail."
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The word "s--t" is used several times. Language also includes "bulls--t," "bitch," "goddamn," "piss," limp-d--ked," "hell," "oh my God," "ass," and insults like "stupid," "ignorant," etc. Degrading language is used to describe disabled people, such as "cripple." Slurs such as "savages," "roaches," and "blue monkeys" are used to describe the Na'vi.
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Products & Purchases
No product placement in the movie, but dozens of tie-in merchandising deals tied to the title -- including toys and books aimed at young kids.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Sigourney Weaver's character, Grace, smokes cigarettes and somewhat glamorizes the activity.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that James Cameron's sci-fi epic Avatar is about humans colonizing the planet Pandora, home to the Na'vi. The movie is long (at 161 minutes) and intense, with several effects-heavy battle and hunting sequences that show the devastation of imperialist violence and the right that Indigenous groups have to protect themselves and their land. These scenes include missile-launching military aircraft, neurotoxin-laced arrows, scary Pandora-dwelling fauna and flora, and lots of explosions. Salty wartime language includes many uses of "s--t," "bitch," and more. As in his previous films, Cameron infuses the action-driven story with strong female characters who are important to the plot, and crafts a morality tale about treating others with respect centered in a romantic relationship. Main character Jake uses a wheelchair in his daily life and a Na'vi "avatar" body to interact with local populations, and the human-Na'vi relationship in question gets a bit complicated because the human is actually using his Na'vi avatar. Na'vi clothing makes parts of their bodies visible from time to time. The romantic leads have chemistry that's sometimes sensual. (Note: Fans of the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender should know that this movie is in no way connected to that show or the movie based on it.) To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
James Cameron, director of the highest-grossing movie ever made (Titanic), risked a rumored $500 million on a spectacular futuristic sci-fi epic whose main characters are blue aliens and settings are mostly CGI. The good news for epic movie lovers everywhere is that Avatar was a massive success. It's more like the story of Dances with Wolves crossed with the breathtaking visual effects of Lord of the Rings and the love story of Titanic, with a splash of the assimilation to a native culture aspect of Apocalypse Now thrown in. Even though Cameron seems to have gone to the same hammy dialogue school of screenwriting as George Lucas, he can certainly immerse viewers in a thoroughly enjoyable spectacle. Every shot of Pandora is amazingly detailed, from floating mountains to flying beasts to the feline-featured Na'vi, who are inspired by several Indigenous cultures. The movie's scale is undeniably impressive.
Cameron owes a huge debt to his movie's female characters, all of whom are much more interesting than the stereotypical men -- especially the outlandishly evil Quaritch and Giovanni Ribisi's greedy corporate overseer. Weaver and Michelle Rodriguez (as soldier Trudy Chacon), like Aliens' Ripley or Terminator's Sarah Connor, could take on anything or anyone, and Saldana follows up a memorable turn as Uhura in Star Trek with another strong performance as Neytiri. It's quite a feat to create romantic electricity between fictional alien creatures, but Saldana and Worthington manage it surprisingly well. If you allow yourself to get lost in Cameron's Pandora, it's impossible not to root for the Na'vi (or Neytiri and Jake). Part sci-fi, part romance, all James Cameron, this is the sci-fi epic that will suck everyone in.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.