Is a live-action series of ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ necessary?

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Netflix recently announced that they will be working in partnership with Nickelodeon to adapt the universally-acclaimed animated show, ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’, into a live-action series.

‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ takes place in a fictional fantasy world influenced by Asian culture and identity. The world is divided into four kingdoms based on the elements: Earth, Wind, Fire, and Air; a world where certain individuals, known as benders, have the unique gift of controlling one of these elements. There is one figure known as the Avatar, who can bend all four elements. His name is Aang, and after being asleep for a hundred years, he wakes up in a world where the Fire Nation have taken over. He, and his friends, must take down the Fire Lord to restore peace and balance to the four nations.

While made for kids, this animated series contains some of the best writing and story-telling out there and deals with some very adult topics of death, failure, and doing the right thing in the face of great adversity. It is a much-beloved work that appeals to audiences despite age, gender, and demographic. To this day, it is still regarded as one of the best animated shows to grace our screens.

Original creators, Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, will now serve as showrunners and executive producers. This news comes a decade after the series finale in 2008 and after a disastrous attempt to adapt the story to film by M. Night Shyamalan. The film was heavily criticised for its complete whitewashing of the cast, except for the Fire Nation, who were portrayed as south Asian – a controversy which led many to call it out for racism and colourism. This was rounded out by a lacklustre script and poor acting, which made the whole movie feel like a slap in the face to fans of the show.

While this new attempt to adapt the animated series into a live-action show holds infinitely more promise and a return to what made the beloved show so special, why is there such a push to turn every animated work into a live-action movie or series? Like books, there are some stories that are just not meant to be made live-action. Some mediums are better able to tell certain stories than others. Many of the best science fiction and fantasy shows and movies of today are animated. While this may be partly due to the massive production budget needed to do justice to the genres, it’s also to do with the beauty and skill of animation which is sometimes impossible to recreate cinematically. The feel of the show is so intertwined with the style of animation, so how can we translate that into real people and scenes?

Why can’t we be happy with an animated version of our favourite shows? Animation is so often overlooked for other cinematic artforms because it is ‘unreal,’ but that’s where its strengths lie. Sometimes stories look and feel better when they aren’t overly realistic, instead flourishing in an art uniquely their own.

Maybe this new adaptation will be everything the fans ever wanted that they didn’t get in the movie. Maybe it will be a crossover hit and introduce new audiences to the Avatar world, or maybe it will be more like the failed movie.

Either way, there will always be one version that stays true and faithful to the stories we’ve all come to love.

 

 

Jade Verbick

 

Image: John Staub