Netflix’s long-awaited live-action adaption of Nickelodeon’s beloved show Avatar: The Last Airbender has many hurdles, and it needs to make sure to do several things right in order to be a success. The original cartoon, which aired from 2005-2008, followed the story of Aang, a 12-year-old boy with the power to control all four elements, as he tries to bring peace and balance back to a world torn apart by war. In the 100 years of his absence, the Fire Nation has invaded the Earth Kingdom and Water Tribes after (almost) wiping out the Air Nomads.
If the Avatar: The Last Airbender series has any chance at meeting the expectations set by the original show, it needs to take care to avoid several of the problems that Netflix’s other live-action adaptations have had. This isn’t the first time the TV show has been adapted, either: when M. Night Shyamalan’s live-action movie was released in 2010, it was met with scathing reviews from fans of the show. Luckily, that means that this upcoming series has a few examples of what not to do, and this can help it focus on the right things. Hopefully, Netflix was paying attention.
Avatar: The Last Airbender Must Honor The Original Creators’ Vision
Unlike many unsuccessful adaptions attempted by Netflix, Avatar: The Last Airbender started the project alongside the two creators of the original series. Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko were set to be the driving force of this new series, which was a good sign that the series would remain faithful to the original story. Unfortunately, the two departed the project in August of 2020, presumably because of creative differences.
After the fans’ public outrage over the Avatar: The Last Airbender creators’ departure, it was reported that those creative differences – notably, changing the characters’ ages – would be reversed to realign with the original show. Now that the actors have all been cast, it seems that they were telling the truth. It also confirms that Netflix took care to cast actors of the appropriate ethnicities to play their characters.
If nothing else, this does mean that Netflix is aware of how much the original series means to its existing fans. The fact that Netflix made such a significant change to their plans creates hope that they will stay aligned with the original show as much as possible now that they know how strongly people feel about it. Hopefully, these now-altered details are the reasons that Konietzko and DiMartino felt uncomfortable with Netflix’s live-action series. While it’s likely the two creators will be unavailable to return to the project because of their plans with Avatar Studios, it’s not entirely out of the question that their influence will continue to affect the live-action series.
Netflix’s Avatar Show Needs Time To Focus On The Right Stories
The standing report is that the series will feature eight episodes in total, each around an hour long. The original plan was to have 10 episodes, but considering the original show’s 20 episodes each operated with under a half hour of screen time, eight should provide enough time for the show to examine all the plot points it needs for season 1. It will be cutting things close, but if certain storylines are abbreviated and filler content is skipped, the series should have no trouble telling the right story.
The storylines in Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender adaption need to be chosen with care, because season 1 introduced many important characters and set up significant development potential for the world of the show as well as its characters. The original show rarely had true “filler” episodes, and the live-action will have to work hard to fit all that content into its eight episodes without rushing anything. That said, choosing the right stories is paramount.
Graphics Are Important… But Not At The Expense Of Avatar’s Story
The world of Avatar: The Last Airbender is wonderfully complex and deserves to have every detail paid its proper respect. This will undoubtedly start with the caliber of special effects used in the show. After all, the entire show centers around the ability to control the world’s natural elements. Luckily, the budget for Avatar: The Last Airbender’s live-action adaption is reported to be one of the biggest of any Netflix Original.
With an estimated $15 million devoted to each episode, surely the series will be able to do the show’s world justice. Much of the show’s concentration and budget needs to be devoted to the special effects that will bring bending to life, but Netflix needs to be careful not to let them have all the attention. Other crucial world-building details – such as the characters’ clothes and hairstyles, or the unique structure of each nation’s buildings and cities – need to be given the same care.
Live-Action Avatar Needs To Balance Realism & Humor
The original show has a great balance between focusing on heavy subject material and keeping a light, hopeful tone: the Hundred Year war, genocide of the airbenders, and other serious issues were all present throughout all three seasons, but its story never became despairing. There were a lot of silly and wacky moments in the show, and though the characters had witnessed a lot of discouraging things, Aang and his friends never lost their ability to seem like children. This is especially important when their story is contrasted with Zuko’s.
Though the show later reveals that he’s under a tremendous amount of pressure, Zuko is immediately introduced as one of the most intensely gloomy characters of the whole show. Despite being just a kid himself, his story is much more tragic and anguished than the others, which sets the story up to eventually give Zuko one of the best redemption arcs of all time. Without the comparison of Zuko’s bleak journey to the reassuring one of Team Avatar, that arc might not be as effective.
However, even Zuko’s screen time is often peppered with funny moments, usually courtesy of the good-spirited Uncle Iroh. By keeping the characters’ adventures generally cheerful and upbeat, the sobering grittiness of their war-torn world is easier to absorb, which makes it both more enjoyable and more effective. Hopefully, the writers of Netflix’s version of the show will understand this balance.
No matter what happens in the final product of Netflix’s live-action adaption of Avatar: The Last Airbender, it’s sure to have a huge audience looking to pass judgment. Several of Netflix’s recent string of adaptions have enjoyed a much better reception than those in the past, and it’s very possible that this one will be another victory. One thing is for certain: Avatar: The Last Airbender has enormous potential for success if Netflix makes the right choices when it comes to its production and story building.