Print&Features Editor Jess Parker finds Netflix’s new live action Avatar series to not live up to expectations, paling in comparison to its original animated version

Print & Features Editor and MA Film and Television: Research and Production student.
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Streaming giant Netflix’s recent live-action adaptation of 2005’s beloved animation Avatar The Last Airbender hit Netflix subscribers’ screens on 22 February 2024. The show follows a similar, yet of course largely stripped back, narrative arc to the original series, following Airbender Aang (Gordon Cormier) as he befriends Waterbender Katara (Kiawentiio Tarbell) and her brother Sokka (Ian Ousely) as Aang seeks to master the four elements in hopes of bringing peace in a global war against the Fire Nation.

The new show had a lot to live up to, and these preliminary concerns left potential viewers wary in their expectations

The 2024 series was first announced to eager fans in 2018, with many hoping that the series could repair the damage caused to the story by M. Night Shyamalan’s disastrous 2010 feature film, The Last Air Bender. The original creators of the 2005 show, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko were initially attached to the project as executive producers, however, in June 2020 they announced their exit from the highly anticipated series due to creative differences. This exit came as a great disappointment to fans of the original show, sparking fears that these creative differences may suggest lapses and alterations to the beloved source material. The new show had a lot to live up to, and these preliminary concerns left potential viewers wary in their expectations.

Avatar The Last Airbender (2024) favours a softer fantasy approach to the 2005 three-series smash, with this series consisting of only eight episodes. It is hard not to find the narrative arc to be rushed when viewers know the gloriously detailed world-building and depth of characters featured within the original show. Not to say that the source material is necessarily hard or epic fantasy, however, it is the nitty-gritty of the show’s adventures that audiences resonated with.

Netflix’s hasty episode run means that the show often glosses over any detail or explanation of the events unfolding

The original is so witty, charming, and a fairly unique show considering the premise’s familiar fantasy template: a world divided faces off against a baddie with the help of one hero. Netflix’s hasty episode run means that the show often glosses over any detail or explanation of the events unfolding, assuming that viewers can already fill in the gaps with their prior knowledge, or that they simply will not care. Either option feels like a missed opportunity, with Netflix’s favoured series structure diminishing the depth that fuelled the 2005 hit.

Unfortunately, it feels as though Avatar The Last Airbender (2024) missed the mark slightly when it comes to the costuming within its fantasy world. Compared to M. Night Shyamalan’s 2010 attempt to bring Aang and The Gang to life, the 2024 series feels almost like a slightly off cosplay. As was the case with the series’ narrative depth, the costumes are missing a lot of detail, and feel so costume-ey that they do not really belong in the beautifully crafted world around them.

The live-action series feels dumbed down and, in many senses, weak

Seemingly, Avatar The Last Airbender (2024) appears to be a key example for the argument that not every animation needs to have a live-action counterpart. The medium of animation lent itself perfectly to the whimsical fantasy of the 2005 show, and ultimately, proves to be a far more successful medium for conveying the world that Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko initially envisioned. The live-action series feels dumbed down and, in many senses, weak. 

It is a great shame that Avatar The Last Airbender (2024) was not able to live up to initial expectations. The original 2005 venture emanated joy and playfulness, contrasted by a deeply emotional and thorough plot, that even a streaming giant such as Netflix cannot authentically capture. Only time will tell whether the series can effectively transition into the third dimension, but as of early 2024, this feels like a pointless exercise. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And whatever you do, be sure to gatekeep The Legend of Korra (2012).

Rating: 2/5


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