Should My Kids Watch Avatar? A Mom’s Review of FernGully Sequel

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Originally Posted at http://sarahjoyalbrecht.com

If you have read the MPAA PG-13 rating for “intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking” and you are still asking “should I take my younger child to go see this movie,” this review is for you.

On Christmas Eve, my husband and I took all five (ages 8, 7, 6, 4, 3) of our children with us to see Avatar. We live in Japan, and the dialogue was in English with Japanese subtitles.

True to the rating, there were a few fecal matter related swearing instances, nudish blue humanoid Na’vi decked in strategically placed beads and loin-cloth size clothes, kissing and implied sex. The fibril linking between the Na’vi and the beings in their world was brilliant but erotic. The kids didn’t notice.

Children younger than 13, especially those who are acquainted with video games and sci-fi, should be fine with parental supervision.

All of my children enjoyed the movie. My six year old, who has a tough exterior, a tender heart, and kicks butt on Halo 3, held my hand during one of the battle scenes. He did not cover his eyes, he just wanted to know that I was nearby. He will kill me someday for sharing this with my readers.

While the MPAA was fretting over cigarette smoking, the strong focus on pantheism was the most malignant aspect of the movie. Today (Christmas morning here) I intend to talk with my children about praying to the spirit of the earth versus praying to the Almighty God. We have had a similar conversation over G-Rated The Lion King. Keep in mind, in a country where less than 1% of the population are Christian, my children are exposed to the worship of false gods from the moment we step outdoors. We are sensitive to this, as we should be.

The movie is gorgeous. I have never seen such CG. The creatures, plant life… the whole world of Pandora… was amazing. I am in awe of James Cameron’s ability to capture a glimpse of his genius and share with us creative plebeians. The bioluminescenct plants in the forest were so other-world beautiful, I wanted to touch them.

I cannot wait to see the pictures my children will draw for the refrigerator gallery after seeing Avatar.

While I did not experience Avatar in I-MAX with 3D glasses, I have a feeling it would have been fun. Without these enhancements, I imagine my viewing experience would compare to walking through an iridescent-on-black-velvet Ocean City, NJ, boardwalk poster shop without the UV lights.

Jake Sully, the film’s hero, is a paraplegic There’s-No-Such-Thing-As-an-Ex-Marine. His twin brother was a doctor set to work on planet Pandora as a driver for a DNA-personalized avatar. Through mind control, drivers are able to safely operate their avatars from a distant base while they interact with the Na’vi aliens in the forest. Shortly before the mission begins, Jake’s brother dies. Jake’s biochemistry was a match and, despite lack of scientific training, he is offered his brother’s job.

When Jake’s mind was reborn into his perfect new avatar body, he couldn’t contain his overwhelming joy at being able to walk again. It was very moving. (There is one other moment that grabbed me by the heart. I won’t spoil the moment, but when you hear the line, “My Jake,” remember this review!) I loved the character’s determination despite his bum legs. He kept up and never made excuses or complained. He did not allow others to treat him delicately.

I am looking forward to revisiting a dialog on with my children on disabilities, and asking them what they would do if their legs stopped working.

Cameron captured the details of the world and the characters very well. He underscored the clashes that occur between corporate interests, a private military company, and scientists on the ground who are all working on the same project for different reasons, and how each group interacts with each other and with indigenous inhabitants.

The storyline, albeit entertaining, was a recycled one. While I was distracted by the gorgeousness of the animation and the how-did-he-think-of-that creature concepts, deep down I felt like watching a sequel to Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest (1992).

FernGully is a magical rain forest inhabited by fairies. A logging company harvests trees from the forest and threatens to destroy the forest environment and the fairies’ world in the process.

One of the loggers, pure-hearted Zak, gets lost in the forest and is accidentally shrunk by one of the FernGully fairies. Fairy-sized, he can view the world from their perspective. Like Jake, Zak comes to understand the symbiotic relationship between the forest’s inhabitants and the beautiful environment around them. Things are going well between Zak and the fairies until the logging crew knocks down a huge, spiraling tree, nearly identical in appearance to a large tree at the heart of the forest in Pandora that is also destroyed. When the tree is destroyed, an ancient evil is unleashed and the fairies realize that, although Zak looks like one of them, he is still a logger. Zak must chose between his job in the human realm and helping the forest fairies he loves. Can you guess what he does?

Avatar was a movie that went well with popcorn. We enjoyed seeing it as a family, but we also enjoy the discussions that come from watching a stories unfold. Sexuality, violence, stewardship and praying to false gods are things we have talked about before, and I felt comfortable allowing my children to view instances to the degree portrayed in this film while sitting next to me.

Do I think that children should be exposed to worldviews other than their own? With supervision, absolutely. When children are young, this might mean parents sitting right next to them. As children get older, supervision could manifest itself in asking questions to keep young adults mentally engaged with the world around them.

As an adult, how do you watch movies?

I leave you with a quote from one of my favorite books on Christians and entertainment:

Two of the most frustrating replies to hear when asking people what they thought of a move are “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it,” accompanied by an inability to explain why. With an elementary understanding of the structure of storytelling, an informed moviegoer can watch a film and enjoy the story while also engaging his or her critical faculties to understand what the movie is trying to say about the way in which we ought or ought not to live. Stories do not exist in a vacuum of meaninglessness. Movies communicate prevailing myths and cultural values. And this cultural effect is far deeper than the excesses of sex and violence. It extends to the philosophy behind the film. The way we view the world and things like right and wrong are embodied in the redemptive structure of storytelling itself. – To End All Wars screenwriter Brian Godawa from his book Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films With Wisdom & Discernment.

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