Spoiler level: mild
A ragtag group of kids, some with special powers, one especially powerful, try to fight the forces of evil. Sounds like I could have described any other plot of any other film, or TV show.
Except Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA) draws inspiration from places closer to home, ones not seen on Nickelodeon, especially not when it aired in 2005. The world of ATLA is divided into four nations of the four classical elements — water, earth, fire, and air. The Northern and Southern water tribes are inspired by Inuit culture, the seat of the Earth Kingdom practically a photocopy of China’s Forbidden City, the Fire Nation harks back to the Japanese empire, and the Air Nomads remind one of Buddhist temples in Timbuktu. Each nation is populated by benders, people gifted with the capacity to manipulate the elements of the nations they were born into. Even their bending movements are inspired by real martial arts, solidly grounding itself in cultures that are decidedly not Western. And it does so in a way that is respectful, revelatory, and earnest. Watching it for the first time as I grew up, it was gave me a taste of other cultures.
This is the world that gave birth to the Avatar 13 years ago, or the idea of him, anyway. The Avatar is reincarnated into every nation at the end of his or her lifetime (like the Dalai Lama!) and is the only person capable of mastering all four elements. The Avatar’s power is meant to restore harmony, balance, and peace among all four nations. This clarity of values is pretty refreshing once you start questioning what they’re fighting for in superhero films.