Avatar? No Thanks, Already ‘ad One…
…which is why that word is no longer part of the title of Nickelodeon’s summertime live-action theatrical feature The Last Airbender; seems someone beat Nick to the punch and grabbed it for their own movie. Not to worry Mr. Redstone; chances are nobody will go see the other film…
The days when the toy spin-offs would follow a movie’s success are long gone; now they’re planned in advance, way in advance; after all, what could possibly be a better (or more expensive) commercial for the stuff than the movie it sprung from?
Nick’s Airbender – the movie based on the channel’s long running animated adventure – won’t be out until July, but the toys are already in the pipeline, and the prototypes went on display for a select audience the week before the New York Toy Fair began on Valentine’s Day.
Well, maybe not that select – they let me in too, into a conference room in Viacom’s Times Square Tower to take a look at the goodies kids will be begging their parents for from a month before the movie opens through Christmas – and beyond. After a bit of breffie we were treated to the movie’s Super Bowl spot followed by its newest theatrical trailer. In the movie Aang’s headtop tattoo is filled with swirling lines, not the solid arrow pointing down his forehead as in the cartoon. (Get ready, America: your twelve year old is going to begging for a tatt of his own, or several once he sees this thing.) The trailer brimmed with way-cool mystical kung-fu action, magic that would impress Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings-style exotic settings. (And was that M. Night himself under that hood? Airbender’s writer/producer/director likes to appear in his movies, but more likely it was The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi; his name’s up there in the credits and in case people have forgotten he was a serious actor long before he started delivering funny fake news.)
Once upon a time I worked for Hasbro’s ad agency, the one that came up with the G.I. Joe and Transformers cartoons that have already made the leap to live-action – but I’d completely forgotten toy industry buzz words like “boy-patterned” toy sets, the “TV-driver” line and lower-priced “impulse items.”
There were combat staffs, both scaled down and full-size “for slightly older fans” who might also be interested in picking up an adult-sized Airbender outfit, perfect for cosplay. “We took notes at Comic-Con,” Lisa Myers, a Nick marketing VP admitted, referring to the Avatar: Airbender fans who created their own wardrobe instead of waiting for official apparel to come out.
A toy version of Aapa, Aang’s ‘Flying Bison’ companion was on display as well, described as “a sort of vehicle,” like a G.I. Joe tank or a Barbie convertible. “We keep an eye on the blogs [posted by Avatar: Airbender fans],” acknowledged Lourdes Arocho, Nick’s Senior Director of Toys. “Those people are so hardcore, they were posting ‘ohmigod, I saw Aapa in the Super Bowl commercial,’ when he was tiny in the corner of one shot.”
Things wrapped up with news of two manga/graphic novels coming from Del Ray Books, one a prequel story (picking up on the movie’s art style rather than the series’), the second an adaptation of the movie itself. Show and tell was over, with one question unanswered (I know because I asked it): will M. Night Shyamalan conclude the film with one of his patented twist endings? Perhaps the movie’s Aang will suddenly wake up as Nickelodeon’s cartoon Aang and ponders “am I a real person dreaming he’s a cartoon character, or a cartoon character dreaming he’s a real person?”