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The Avatar the Last Airbender Live Action Series: Doomed to Repeat History?

Netflix's Avatar live action series's promotional image

Many people consider Avatar: The Last Airbender as the pinnacle of Nickelodeon’s animated series. There’s everything you could ask for in a show: comedy, adventure, world-building, great character development from heroes and villains alike, and even a few serious moments dedicated to answering morally grey questions. Our young heroes are prone to their mistakes. But the development they go through over the course of the series shows how you can change no matter the circumstances (looking at you, Zuko). There’s a ton to appreciate for both children and adults alike. So it was no wonder that Netflix, one of the biggest streaming services in the world, wanted to take things a step further and expand the A:TLA franchise with a new, live action series.

Previous Experience in the Live Action Realm

Avatar: The Last Airbender already got a live action movie, released back in 2010. With the famed M. Night Shyamalan directing the film, it should’ve been a resounding success, right? But the film was a major disaster. It was so bad that A:TLA fans pretend the film doesn’t exist. And you didn’t have to be a previous fan of A:TLA to agree that the movie sucked. Just look at the 5% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

What led to the film’s demise? The cast was whitewashed. The characters didn’t reflect their cartoon counterparts. The special effects were downright awful. They even mispronounced the protagonist’s name! Seriously, who pronounces the name “Aang” like “Ong”? Not to mention, the diversity the film pulled in was for Zuko and the Fire Nation—which, since they’re villains—wasn’t a great look.

So going forward, there were obvious mistakes Netflix could avoid with the new live action series. With the creators of the animated series, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, back on the production team, things were looking up. Surely with the creators working behind the scenes, the new live action series could fix the mistakes the movie had made!

But history seemed destined to repeat itself, according to recent reports. After multiple disagreements on how the show should be handled, both DiMartino and Konietzko stepped down from the production team. Konietzko cited in his explanation on Instagram that Netflix “made a very public promise to support our vision” and “unfortunately, there was no follow-through on that promise”. 

What Caused The A:TLA Creators To Step Down?

Netflix apparently wanted the series to take on darker, more mature themes, including violence, sex, and gore. They’d be aging the characters up to match the grittier content as well. And just like The Last Airbender movie, Netflix voiced that they’d cast white actors, which goes against what the A:TLA animated series and the creators envisioned. Understandably, there was a public outcry about this news. Some Avatar: The Last Airbender fans even called for a complete boycott on the series.

But is the direction Netflix is taking necessarily a bad one? Creating live action counterparts of animated series is a great way to revive a franchise and bring favorite characters and stories back into the spotlight. Since the animated show’s release on Netflix earlier this year, it was smart to ride the franchise’s wave of popularity. Aging up the characters in the show is also a good call when you want to handle darker topics. Avatar: The Last Airbender, directed at kids, already introduced a number of mature themes. Netflix probably understands that the fanbase for A:TLA has either grown up or is at least old enough to appreciate darker themes more than before. So aging up the characters alongside the audience could make it feel as though the heroes have grown alongside us.

There’s Still Hope

It’s a different approach, and it’s not for everybody. Ever since the failure of the Avatar: The Last Airbender movie, it makes sense that most A:TLA fans have taken the news of a live action series negatively. But personally, I’m looking forward to the series with cautious optimism. It’s hard to ignore the backlash, and it’s even harder to disagree with the concerns that have been raised. But it’s possible that Netflix and the development team will consider the backlash and make changes before the series airs. There’s still time to fix things—and, if not—then we can look forward to another 5% Rotten Tomatoes score.

Do you think the new Avatar: The Last Airbender live action series will follow in the footsteps of its animated counterpart? Or will it flop as badly as the 2010 film? Sound off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter!

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Kayleigh Clark

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