Doug Walker On: “Return to Omashu”
It’s becoming increasingly more interesting to see where Doug Walker and I disagree than where we see eye-to-eye. This is likely a testament to Avatar: the Last Airbender‘s greatness: even if no one can agree on what constitutes the best or worst elements of the show, these same elements somehow mesh together to generate one of the most worthwhile American animated children’s programs of all-time.
And now in this vlog on “Return to Omashu,” I’ve found what might be the two major dividing points for Doug and I.
First, and most importantly, we differ on how Avatar‘s status as a kids’ show affects its success.
I’ve always found that being a kids’ show was a poor excuse for the writers to get away with too much silly shit. In this episode, it allows the citizens of Omashu to escape the city by pretending to be diseased. Maybe if they played up the absurdity of this plan or even how gross those octopus marks looked—perhaps a Ren & Stimpy-style close-up to exaggerate their hideousness would have sold it—then it would have been more plausible (and funny). Unfortunately, the way it pans out in the episode is cute, but pretty dumb. It’s a moment and style of humor totally indistinguishable from any other kids’ show; it’s the type of thing you’d expect in something like Fairly Odd Parents, not a show whose catalyst is the genocide of an entire race of people.
Doug, however, found this taking advantage of their kids’ show status to be clever. He admits that in a flat-out drama, this course of action would be way too silly to be taken seriously. But it works here, because Avatar is geared towards an audience that’s smart enough to know better [hopefully], yet not jaded enough to be offended [hopefully again], and thus will find it absolutely hilarious for precisely the former reason. (If I’m not mistaken, this phenomenon is commonly referred to as the Rule of Funny.)
See, I find this attitude perfectly fine for the average kids’ show, where feelings and expression often reign over logic and reality (though it goes without saying that a joke must have its own internal logic to work). The problem with this kind of humor in something like Avatar is that the Avatar universe is grounded in a reality whose basic principles resemble that of the real world. Sure, you can Bend in the Avatar universe, but you’re still bound by physics and mortality, two things one cannot forsake just for a silly reality-bending joke. (This is the main reason why “The Ember Island Players” is the most offensive episode in the series.)
So I can see why Doug feels the way he does on the issue. Whether it’s a good or a bad thing is where we split.
Second, and not even close to being as important, we differ in our animal character values.
Simply put, Doug finds Momo to be a bore, to the point that he thinks Appa has more personality. I, of course, think precisely the opposite: Appa is the absolute bore and Momo is the purest character in the show.
This one isn’t even worth delving into too deeply. Perhaps Appa has some quality about himself that I simply cannot recognize, and Momo has some quality about himself that Doug simply cannot recognize (which surprised me because his favorite character in The Simpsons is Maggie, who’s kind of like Momo). That’s fine. That means he’ll enjoy “Appa’s Lost Days.” Good for him.
As for “Return to Omashu,” it’s a fairly mediocre episode in my book. And I most certainly don’t share Doug’s enthusiasm for Ty Lee, who annoys me with her high-pitched anime-esque blandness. And I must say, Doug’s ramble about how the show challenges the audience with its ideas about Eastern philosophy is the highlight of his vlogs so far. All I can add to the discussion is this paraphrasing from George Starostin’s review of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass: watching Avatar, one is certainly struck by DiMartino and Konietzko’s competent mastery of certain Eastern schools of thought…and how they successfully lost that mastery in just a few years with The Legend of Korra.