Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox
If you can get past the delight-for-the-eyes aesthetic brilliance of Avatar, what you’re left with (besides James Cameron's characteristically trite writing) are themes reminiscent of other films, including several kid flicks. The full Hollywood-speak equation goes something like this: FernGully meets Tron meets The Matrix meets Starship Troopers meets Dances With Wolves meets Pocahontas.
While Pocahontas has Avatar's all-living-things-are-connected feel and Tron pioneered the whole real-person-in-virtual-world thing, FernGully actually comes closest to a dead-on narrative match.
An animated feature released in 1992, FernGully is a fictional Australian rainforest with magical fairies living in peace until they are invaded by human woodcutters. You’ll have to either rent the film or travel to Wikipedia like I did to get the rest of the story, but suffice it to say there are talking forest creatures, magical protective trees, and a lumberjack's assistant who falls in love with a fairy and turns against his own people to save her world from destruction.
Now, I'm not saying that Avatar stole from FernGully any more than it did from Dances with Wolves. Nor am I saying you should rent FernGully instead of watching Avatar (though Tim Curry, Robin Williams, Christian Slater, and Cheech & Chong would appreciate the residuals).
Let’s just give breakthrough credit where it’s due. Avatar's digital imagery makes something like The Polar Express look as realistic as The Flintstones. And I was as smitten with Zoe Saldana’s Neytiri as everyone else was. But in terms of story themes, this road has been traveled before -- perhaps even more deftly -- by a tree-hugging kids' film released over 15 years ago.