Everything We Know About Netflix's Live-Action 'Avatar: The Last Airbender'
This isn't the first live-action remake of the beloved children's series.
When Avatar: The Last Airbender, one of the greatest animated series of all time, came to Netflix in May of 2020, the people started asking: What's up with that new live-action series they were talking about? In 2018, Netflix announced that it would be retelling the story of the Gaang with real people, and fans were immediately piqued. They were also a little worried, and with good reason: M. Night Shyamalan directed a legendarily horrendous live-action film adaptation of the first season of the series back in 2010 that included one memorable scene where a team of powerful earthbenders move a pebble across the screen. But there are still plenty of ways for a live-action version of this story to be good, and at least now Netflix has a primer of what not to do. Here's everything we know about Netflix's live-action Avatar series so far.
When is the live-action Avatar series coming out?Netflix announced its plans in 2018. As it still appears to be in planning stages, there is no release date yet. Production was originally planned to start in 2019, and then announced that it would happen in 2020, but given how the coronavirus pandemic has halted production on everything, we'll definitely have to wait a little longer. At least this gives them more time to perfect it!
Which characters will be in it?We can expect to see all the major players—Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph, Zuko, Iroh, Azula, Firelord Ozai, etc.—but since it hasn't been cast yet, we don't know who else will make it into the series, whether it'll combine some minor characters, or if it'll take some out entirely. Hopefully, Cabbage Man makes the cut.
Will it follow the original story?As far as we know, yes. The original Nickelodeon show was set in the fictional world of the Four Nations, each corresponding to a certain classical element, and each home to "benders," those who could psychokinetically manipulate one of those elements using martial arts. Only the Avatar, a reincarnated human, could master all four elements and keep the balance of the world. One hundred years before the series begins, the Fire Nation attacked the other three, subduing the Air Nomads and one of the Water Tribes, and began a decades-long war after the Avatar vanished. In the first episode, waterbender Katara and her brother Sokka discover the missing Avatar, the only surviving airbender named Aang, in suspended animation in an iceberg, and help him on his journey to learn the rest of the elements and defeat the Firelord.
The original series was separated into three seasons, or "books," of 20 episodes each. The show may follow this format, releasing three seasons that follow the events of the original, maybe with longer episodes and skipping over the weaker one-shots ("The Great Divide," anyone?).
Who is in the cast?Since the show is still in pre-production, there haven't been any cast members announced yet. The good news is they'll be especially looking out for people of color. Shyamalan's movie was derided not just because it was bad, but because the majority of the main cast was white. The show is set in a conglomerate world built upon East Asian, New World, and Inuit influences—none of which contain any white people. Original series co-creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko were very clear about this in a statement from 2018:
"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. 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."
Konietzko did reveal on his Instagram (above) that he was looking for a way to involve Dante Basco, one of the most recognizable voice actors in the game who played Zuko in the original show, in the remake somehow. Basco also reprised his role for Avatar's sequel series The Legend of Korra, but Konietzko says he won't be playing Zuko in this series—they'll be casting age-appropriate actors for that.
Speaking of ages, The Illuminerdi reported (though this has not been confirmed) in February 2021 that in this version, Katara would be the older sibling at 16, and her brother Sokka would be 14. Aang will stay pretty much the same at 12.
Who else is involved?Original series creators DiMartino and Konietzko were originally going to executive produce the show, but in August 2020 both announced that they had left the project in June, citing creative differences with Netflix and vague reneged promises. We'll probably never know what exactly was the final straw for them, but it all sounds pretty damning, especially for a company like Netflix, which has traditionally kept very hands-off of its own productions. Some suspected it had something to do with the network's original promise to cast all non-white actors for the principal roles, and fans even called to boycott the series back in August.
The original show's voice cast, during a virtual reunion panel, questioned the point of the live-action show, with Dee Bradley Baker (who voiced Appa and Momo) asking, "I'm open to whatever they do with the live-action series, which I know nothing about, but it's like, 'Well, how do you do this better than the way that it was rendered on this show?' I don’t know how you do that! I hope you can." They discussed M. Night Shyamalan barring DiMartino and Konietzko from having any creative input in his movie, and Olivia Hack (who voiced Ty Lee) said, "Especially when you're doing the exact same series, but as a live-action. You're not adding onto it or expanding the universe. You're doing the same thing, which feels redundant, but I don't know."
Composer Jeremy Zuckerman will return to compose the music. Jan Chol Lee, who worked on Disney's Big Hero 6, among others, is a concept designer for the series. Dan Lin (The Lego Movie, It, Sherlock Holmes) will be executive producing.