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Canyon Hills Chronicle

The Student News Site of Canyon Hills High School

Canyon Hills Chronicle

The Student News Site of Canyon Hills High School

Canyon Hills Chronicle

The New “Avatar: The Last Airbender” Adaptation Didn’t Live Up To Its Potential

The original cartoon titled “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (ATLA) was released by Nickelodeon in 2005. Over the years, especially after it became an addition to Netflix in 2020, it has become extremely beloved and popular. 

In 2010, a feature-length film titled “The Last Airbender” was released to theaters as an adaptation of the cartoon’s first season. However, it was met with intense backlash and criticism. Between whitewashing the racial diversity of the main characters, the YouTube-green-screen-looking CGI effects, and overall stripping away the message and love of the cartoon, the film has gone on to be considered one of the worst movies of all time. In 2019, Netflix announced that they would be releasing a live action adaptation of the show as a brand new television series, which excited many fans in hope that this medium would do the original justice. 

While I did personally enjoy this new adaptation of ATLA, I don’t think it lived up to the potential it originally had.

One thing I absolutely adored was the casting. I followed the casting announcements from the very beginning of the show’s development, and was happy to see racially accurate actors and actresses casted for each character. In interviews and behind-the-scenes, I think each of the four main characters (Aang, Katara, Sokka, and Zuko) have actors that embody their energies perfectly, especially Kiawentiio Tarbell as Katara. 

“I really enjoyed many of the casting decisions they made, [the cast] feels more similar to the animated show rather than the movie,” said CHHS senior Daniel Jarquin. “However, I do feel like their acting is a bit bland at times. Still better than the movie, though.”

However, I was disappointed in the writing for not incorporating the energy of the original characters, even though they casted the perfect people. Katara, for example, was bold and strong in the cartoon. She was motherly and feminine and kind but still stood her ground and wasn’t afraid to be angry. She was (and still is) an icon for young girls all over the world, especially those (like myself) who were told we weren’t allowed to be angry. I love her, and was ecstatic when they casted a young indigenous actress who matched her energy. Kiawentiio Tarbell has the perfect Katara sass and humor while still being kind, and all of the interviews I’ve watched of her has made me adore her as Katara. However, the writers of the live adaptation severely watered down Katara’s character. She’s become a lot more quiet and reserved, all while Sokka took over more of her “motherly” role.

A side by side comparison of Aang (Gordon Cormier) in the 2024 live action (top) versus Aang in the original 2005 cartoon.
Source: avatarverse_ on Instagram

For me, it took away a lot of the show’s message and a lot of the character complexity, especially with her and Sokka’s character changes being directly intertwined. Sokka as a character is a teenage boy who grew away from the sexism and expectations of his tribe and learned to be comfortable with his own masculinity. They removed him being sexist in the beginning, which caused a domino effect in removing the rest of his character. Now, he’s more of a big brother presence to Katara, which is fine, but in my mind doesn’t quite fit right for the characters I already know and love.

“The character changes make me worried as a huge part of the animated show is being able to see each of the characters grow in each season,” said Jarquin. “I feel like these changes negate some of that growth, and the later seasons may not be that good.”

The plot didn’t change too much, but I do think the compression of this show into a quick eight episode season made the whole season feel rushed compared to the original, especially with the lack of filler scenes and episodes for the characters to grow. Personally, I wish they didn’t squeeze lots of essential subplots, such as Zuko’s backstory and Suki and Sokka’s relationship, from later seasons into this season as it took away the surprise factor. However, with Netflix spontaneously canceling shows left and right (this show was renewed for season two and three), it doesn’t surprise me that a lot was rushed into one singular season.

Overall, the show was alright. Compared to the cartoon, however, it wasn’t great. If you’re interested in the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender, I would recommend watching the Nickelodeon cartoon instead of this Netflix live-action adaptation.

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About the Contributor
Jasmine Tran
Jasmine Tran, Entertainment Editor
Jasmine Tran, the entertainment editor, is a junior at Canyon Hills High School. She loves writing, reading, filmmaking, and Taylor Swift. She is socially awkward, but she enjoys talking to people if they're friendly enough. She is the biggest Taylor Swift fan that one could ever see or meet.
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