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Disney Edits ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Trailer to Remove Gun Ahead of ‘Lightyear’ Showings (Exclusive)

The teaser for James Cameron’s upcoming epic looks a little different in a theater than it did online

The teaser trailer for James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” broke viewership records when it debuted online in May, but if you saw the film in front of showings of Disney-Pixar’s “Lightyear,” you may have noticed it looked a little different.

To explain: the end of the “Avatar: The Way of Water” teaser trailer features a big hero moment: Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), on the back of aquatic creature, rising up out of the water (the creature has wings). Over Jake’s shoulder is a serious-looking assault weapon. You can tell he’s ready for battle. Parallels can immediately be drawn to the climax of the first film, where Sully rode the dragon-like banshees into battle against more sophisticated machinery (we imagine that the evil Resources Development Administration are on the other side of this skirmish, in high-tech maritime vehicles). You can watch that version of the trailer here:

In the version attached to “Lightyear,” Jake doesn’t have a gun at all, but rather a long spear. The implication is clear: “Lightyear” is a movie for kids (although one that actually features a fair amount of gun, er, laser play) and they didn’t want to have a gun in the trailer. (“Lightyear” opened a few weeks after the massacre in Uvalde and sensitivity is at a high, as evidenced by the content warning that preceded Disney+’s “Obi-Wan Kenobi.”) It’s an understandable alteration but still struck us as odd. (There’s another shot in the trailer that features guns but we couldn’t tell if that was altered or removed.)

Apparently, the change from the gun to the spear was at the behest of the Motion Picture Association of America. For the trailer to appear before PG-rated films, the change had to be made. (The altered version of the trailer will also play before “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” which is rated PG and opening this weekend.) The shot will be unaltered for the theatrical release of the film this Christmas.

The practice of altering trailers and other marketing materials isn’t out of the ordinary (the MPA oversees everything from billboards to print materials like posters and advises based on the intended audience). They merely suggest the alteration; how the studio (in this case Disney) chooses to address those suggestions can vary. The reason that this change in the “Avatar: The Way of Water” trailer stood out is because it required new animation and takes up a prominent spot in the trailer itself.

“Avatar 2” is arguably the most important movie on Disney’s 2022 release calendar. An infinitely delayed, feverishly anticipated project and one of the crown jewels of Disney’s acquisition of Fox’s assets (keep in mind that there’s already a sprawling, state-of-the-art “Avatar” land as part of Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida).

The MPA has not yet rated “Avatar: The Way of Water,” but the 2009 first film — which was produced and distributed by 20th Century Fox — was rated PG-13 for “intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking.”

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