It is growing increasingly harder for families to find entertainment to enjoy together. Children’s programs are often overly simplified and boring for older audiences, while adult programs frequently contain material that may not be appropriate for all ages. It has become normal to divide media into those two categories. However, there are specific cases where that boundary is broken. Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender (Avatar) and Netflix’s Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia (Trollhunters) are two examples of this. While both were originally created for young viewers they came to appeal to a much wider audience. When inspecting the two for similarity it becomes apparent that having a strong cast is one of the most important aspects of building a connection with viewers. Many critics focus on plot development and animation quality however through these examples we can see that those are clearly not the only important factors. The well matched and relatable characters found in both series lead to them reaching a much wider age demographic than would have otherwise been expected.
The similarity in the roles that the main casts play in Avatar and Trollhunters is one of the first things to stand out. The casts can quickly be summarized in broad strokes as each containing a hero, a comic-relief character, a future love interest, and several teachers and guides. The way each appears within its world is unique and interesting, while maintaining the standard dynamic which allows a new viewer to quickly grasp the social setting. Considering the role of each character carefully is important in all forms of storytelling. Terry Brooks (2003), a well-known fantasy author, makes a point of its importance in his extrapolations on the writing process (Brooks, 2003, p.129). In Avatar we see the hero represented by Aang, the hilarious companion is Sokka, Katara will eventually fall for Aang, and Toph and Zuko teach Aang the different magic disciplines within their world. In Trollhunters we see a boy named Jim as the protagonist, his best friend Toby creates plenty of side comedy, Claire joins the team when she insists on stepping out of the role of crush and becomes Jim’s friend, Blinky and Aaaarrrgh guide Jim in his new responsibilities, and NotEnrique joins the team in search of a family and acceptance. Each character’s screen time is thought out to bring a unique flavor to the standard role and a spark of life to the overall series.
In both Avatar and Trollhunters each character is given time to grow and mature. This creates strong relatable characters, which contributes to the connection with the audience. The attention to each character’s unique struggles provides every viewer someone that they can bond with. You can see this exemplified in Aang and Jim, the protagonists, as they struggle with their newfound responsibility and how to protect their loved ones. The type of struggle that would not be uncommon of a young adult. Viewers also witness Sokka, Katara, and Toby handle the grief of losing their parents. A struggle that can be found in any age group, but is more prevalent among older viewers. Toph and Claire both struggle with strained relationships with their parents, as do many adolescents and young adults in our culture. Zuko and NotEnrique are tasked with finding their own path, determining what is important to them, and figuring out their own values and morals. Which is a journey that all of the adult viewers have gone through to varying degrees. In every instance the characters reach out to someone beyond that of the young audience which they were originally crafted for.
An important difference to notice between the two is that the way the plot develops and overall pacing of the story is completely different. Avatar follows the traditional three act format. The first season contains the set-up of the world and characters. The second season is where the tension escalades and the plot is developed more. Then the last season creates a fulfilling resolution to the conflict. Trollhunters, on the other hand, has taken a rather less common format with four acts. It is a bit hard to see at first due to the fact that Netflix decided to publish the first two acts together as one season. However, if you look closely you can see the slight shift in focus that divides it into four equal parts. The first act is predominantly occupied with setting up the world and situations that our cast is in. The second act focuses on character development. The third act is where the true conflict begins to rise in earnest. Then the fourth serves as a conclusion to a story that the viewers will have had ample time to have grown connected to. The differences in plot structures only further cement that it is not the aspect of the story which created such and enjoyable experience for viewers.
Once one has experience watching Avatar and Trollhunters it is easy to see the similarities between the way that they laid out their casts, the emotional journeys of the characters, and the way that those things relate to our everyday lives. When compared to that the way that the plot was structured and paced appears to have very little to do with the overall enjoyment of each show. These two shows actively portray the fact that it is possible to create entertainment that is easily understood by young audiences while still providing an enjoyable and enriching experience for older viewers.