June 4, 2020

Should we be worried about Netflix’s Last Airbender reboot?

Netflix announced via Twitter last week that the fan-favorite animated show Avatar: The Last Airbender was receiving a live-action reboot. The announcement comes more than 13 years after the original release of the television show, and only eight years after the release of the critically panned M. Night Shyamalan live-action film.

The show follows a young “airbender” named Aang who, with the help of his friends Katara and Sokka, attempts to use bending to end war with the Fire Nation.

Between Netflix’s recent foray into terrible adaptations (yes, I’m looking at you, Death Note) and the recent memory of Shyamalan’s disastrous live-action attempt, some fans are worried that this will be another adaptation destined for failure. The good news is that Avatar creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino will be returning to head the show.

Some of Netflix’s most well-received adaptations have come from shows where creators have been directly involved. A good example is A Series of Unfortunate Events, which author Daniel Handler helped to produce. Giving creators more control allows for a retelling that stays truer to the source material.

“We can’t wait to realize Aang’s world as cinematically as we always imagined it to be, and with a culturally appropriate, non-whitewashed cast,” DiMartino and Konietzko wrote in a statement released on their official Facebook page. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to build upon everyone’s great work on the original animated series and go even deeper into the characters, story, action, and world-building. Netflix is wholly dedicated to manifesting our vision for this retelling, and we’re incredibly grateful to be partnering with them.”

White-washing has been a major problem in Hollywood lately. Just last year the big-budget, anime-adapted Ghost in the Shell starred a Caucasian Scarlett Johansson. To hear the creators blatantly and clearly address that issue so quickly is reassuring that this franchise has been put in the right hands.

Creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartino want to build on the animated series' world with a "culturally appropriate" cast.

(Concept art by John Staub, released by Netflix)

The good news doesn’t end there for fans of the original series, either. Jeremy Zuckerman, who composed the score to the original series, is returning to the Netflix reboot to create a brand-new soundtrack. I won’t count my Sky Bison eggs before they hatch, but judging by the announcements that have come out over the last week, things are looking pretty good for the new series.

Not all Avatar fans share my enthusiasm, however. Many internet commenters seem to worry about the announcement referring to this as a “retelling” of the story, but I think this could be a welcome change. The series always hinted at something a little more sinister and violent than what could be shown in a children’s show on Nickelodeon. Now DiMartino and Konietzko have a chance to explore the world they created in a slightly more mature and grown-up setting. Aang’s struggles with war, masculinity, and violence are complex and interesting topics that were at most lightly touched upon in the series, but offer room for character growth.

It is also important to remember that while the animated series ends with the arrival of Sozin’s comet, DiMartino and Konietzko have released six additional Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novels since the series wrapped up. This means that in additions to the three seasons of the animated series, they have plenty of additional content to pull from should they desire to continue the show out past the original ending.

Like many millennials, Avatar: The Last Airbender was a major part of my childhood and I really don’t want to see Netflix mar this like they have so many other adaptations. However, knowing that the original creators are going to be heading the series gives me a lot of hope, and the announcements already released indicate that it will be crafted in a way that holds true to the original series while taking new liberties at the same time. Really, all I want to see is that poor cabbage salesman lose all his cabbages.

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