MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

"The Last Airbender" is a film born under a bad sign. First, there's the name. It was originally called "Avatar: The Last Airbender." But "Avatar," as a film title, was already taken. Then there's the timing. It's opening in theaters the same week as the new "Twilight" movie.

Film critic Kenneth Turan surveys the damage.

KENNETH TURAN: The best films for kids have always had something for adults in them. That was true when "The Black Stallion" came out 30 years ago and when "Toy Story 3" came out last month. The problem with "The Last Airbender" is that it's pegged almost exclusively to the small-fry state of mind of the original Nickelodeon series.

(Soundbite of music)

TURAN: The film takes us to a self-contained, mythic universe inhabited by four tribal peoples: the Air Nomads, the Water Tribe, the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation. Each group has chosen people called benders, who can, yes, bend their particular element to their will. A shaman called an avatar keeps these four tribes in harmony, but he's been gone for 100 years, and war has broken out in his absence.

(Soundbite of music)

TURAN: The film gets going when the young avatar, who's been trapped in an iceberg, is rescued by a brother and sister. As the avatar tries to recover his powers, the siblings try to protect him from the evil all around.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Last Airbender")

Ms. NICOLA PELTZ (Actor): (as Katara) What is this?

Mr. NOAH RINGER (Actor): (as Aang) No way. The Fire Nation is here.

TURAN: "The Last Airbender" retains the Asian feeling of the original shows, including liberal doses of martial arts, tai chi, Buddhist philosophy and Tibetan religion, even though the three protagonists are white.

Its determinately unsophisticated dialogue is pitched to resonate with parents of the New Age persuasion. Lines like: you must let anger go, there is no love without sacrifice and the ever-popular is there a spiritual place where I can meditate?

Speaking of truisms, it is one of Hollywood's articles of faith that if you don't hook the parents, they'll never take the kids. It will be interesting to see if "The Last Airbender" proves that rule or breaks it.

KELLY: Kenneth Turan. He reviews movies for the Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION.

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