Buzzingtales brings for you an interesting prognosis about human psychology. Divyasa Mishra‘s ( an Animation major) beautifully crafted article, based on her well-researched analysis, brings to the forefront some interesting facts.
My major is Animation, with emphasis on storytelling. Creating a relatable story that evokes strong emotions is imperative for a successful animator. I feel it is extremely pertinent for every creative individual, and especially an animator to comprehend and employ psychological aspects in their creative expression. The 2005 American cartoon series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, is extremely popular among children and adults even today. Animator Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, have successfully employed attribution processes and attractiveness to develop an impactful story and relatable characters. Covering issues like abuse, war, racism, sexism, and mainly mental health issues such as psychopathy, depression, and trauma, the series is an action-packed psychological roller coaster. Prince Zuko, who is the secondary antagonist till his redemption arc, is among the most popular character in the series.
According to Fritz Heider’s Attribution theory, we tend to ascribe a person’s behaviour to their internal attributes (personality) rather than their external attributes (situational) especially when for a stranger. The rule for an effective story is “show don’t tell”. The series deploys this seamlessly. The characters actions shape their personality in the audience’s mind. When Zuko is first introduced, he is depicted as being bad-tempered, ruthless, uncaring to his subordinates, and obsessed with capturing the Avatar (the main protagonist). Naturally, the audience ascribes dispositional attribution to Zuko and he appears as the evil villain.
As the series delves deeper into his past, we discover the external attributes for his behavior. He tried to standing up for what was right but had been scarred and banished from his kingdom. Throughout his childhood, he was deemed inferior to his sister and the only person who loved him (his mother), ran away. Moreover, he always feels insecure about his abilities and appearance. Once the audience is familiar with the external/situational aspects of Zuko’s life they begin to see him in a different light. According to Harold Kelly’s Covariation Model, people make inferences to explain a person’s consistent behavior. This usually happens when the person is not a stranger, and we know their story. Powerful stories almost always explain the main character’s story and experiences so the audience can make an informed judgment. As the story progresses we see that Zuko is a misunderstood hero. He rescues his enemy and helps a poor farmer, accepts his faults, stands up to his abusive family, and joins the protagonists while still understanding that he can never completely gain his trust. The audience now looks at these actions and associates his internal attributes as positive and, thus, eventually learns to love and sympathize with the character.
The Halo Effect is extremely predominant in Disney movies. Often the protagonist is portrayed as beautiful, conversely, the antagonist is unattractive. What is beautiful is considered as good. The show clearly makes Zuko conventionally attractive with the progression of his redemption arc as a reflection of his character. Most individuals have implicit egoism: we like what we associate with ourselves. What every successful story needs is a relatable character. Most of us fall into a moral grey area, have insecurities, make mistakes, and struggle to find our destiny. None of us are perfect, and neither is Zuko. This is what makes him relatable. The show has an Asian cast, which I personally enjoyed since it made me feel represented. Thus, all these factors play a role in making Zuko so likeable and his redemption arc so successful.