Avatar: The Last Airbender, winner of a Primetime Emmy and Kids’ Choice Award, won a lesser-known award for the well-known episode that stars Appa, Aang’s lovable sky bison. AVatar season 2, episode 16, “Appa’s Lost Days,” shows what happened to Appa after he was abducted by sandbenders in season 2, episode 10, “The Library.” “Appa’s Lost Days” is an emotional roller-coaster – at times heartwarming, but more often heartbreaking. In the episode, the gentle giant is put through a horrific series of events, barely able to stop and rest. Appa is not reunited with Aang until the following episode, “Lake Laogai,” leaving viewers distraught at the end of “Appa’s Lost Days” when Appa is abducted once again, separating him even further from Aang, Sokka, Katara, and Momo.
Throughout the Avatar episode, “Appa’s Lost Days,” Appa encounters many obstacles, including the Fire Nation circus, “buzzard wasps,” a farmer and his wife, a wild “boar-q-pine,” Azula and her posse, and finally the Dai Li, a group of elite earthbending agents in the city of Ba Sing Se. Along the way, Appa reminisces about his childhood and the first time he met his human companion, Aang the Avatar. Every trial Appa faces reveals something about Appa’s personality and the entire episode is crafted beautifully, but one particular sequence of events in “Appa’s Lost Days” made Avatar the winner of a Humane Society award.
In 2007, Avatar: The Last Airbender won a Genesis Award for “Appa’s Lost Days.” The Genesis Awards are hosted by the Humane Society of the United States, a “nonprofit organization that focuses on animal welfare and opposes animal-related cruelties of national scope” [via Humane Society]. The purpose of the award remains in line with the organization’s core mission of advocating for animal rights and opposing animal cruelty. The award was given to Avatar specifically for its depiction of animal cruelty in the Fire Nation circus, where Appa was starved, whipped, abused with firebending (from which he develops a fear of fire), and forced to perform circus stunts while wearing an elaborate costume. According to the Humane Society at the time of the award, the journey of the beloved sky bison, Appa, “resonates with the way animals are used in circuses today.”
In collaboration with the Humane Society, actress and animal rights advocate Gretchen Wyler founded the award in 1986, hoping that the creation of an award would incentivize Hollywood to become more aware of how animals are depicted in film and television. Previous winners of Genesis Awards include Babe, Finding Nemo, Free Willy, Chicken Run, and several documentaries – all logical selections, given that animals are at the center of these films. But even though it may seem like an unusual award for Avatar – an animated children’s program that’s not usually animal-centric – Avatar is just one of several peculiar selections for the Genesis Award. The Iron Giant, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, one episode each from MacGyver, Roseanne, and The Simpsons, and two episodes from both Everybody Loves Raymond and Bones have all been awarded by the Humane Society.
The theme that connects each Genesis Award winner is simple: compassion for animals. Though “Appa’s Lost Days” illustrates this concept through a fictional, anthropomorphized animal in the fictional world of a children’s cartoon, the impact of the message still resonates with fans of the show. The show’s universal appeal lies in the way that Avatar depicts the heaviest of topics and “Appa’s Lost Days” indeed proves that the show’s ability to strike a masterful balance between being appropriate for children while also containing lessons for any age. Then perhaps it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that, since an award for raising awareness of animal rights exists and Avatar once depicted animal cruelty, Avatar: The Last Airbender would win such an award.