Netflix’s Live-Action The Last Airbender Series In Trouble, Avatar’s Creators Quit

By Rick Gonzales

Live-Action Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix

When Netflix announced in September of 2018 that it was producing a live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender, it sent fans into a frenzy. And by frenzy, we mean they were over-the-moon thrilled with the idea.

Netflix is spending a ton of money on the show. They haven’t released the exact budget, but word is that Netflix’s live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender series will be the most expensive show the streaming service has ever produced.

To put that in context, The Witcher cost Netflix around $10 million an episode. The Crown cost them around $150 million for a season. That means they’re spending more than $10 million an episode on The Last Airbender. That will end up equaling a total budget of well over $150 million.

The good news here is that it sounds like they’re planning to stick really closely to the story as it was laid out in the Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series. So closely in fact that apparently it will follow the three season arc exactly. We’ve heard that Netflix is already committed to three seasons of the show and they’re also committed to ending it after that. Just like the animated version.

THE PEOPLE MAKING NETFLIX’S AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER

When work started on Netflix’s live-action Last Airbender, the team who created the animated version were heavily involved. Both Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko were heavily involved. Unfortunately, that is no longer true. Both have left the project and say they are unhappy with the direction Netflix is taking it.

Dante released the following statement:

Many of you have been asking me for updates about the Avatar live-action Netflix series. I can finally tell you that I am no longer involved with the project. In June of this year, after two years of development work, Bryan Konietzko and I made the difficult decision to leave the production. When Bryan and I signed on to the project in 2018, we were hired as executive producers and showrunners. In a joint announcement for the series, Netflix said that it was committed to honoring our vision for this retelling and to supporting us on creating the series. And we expressed how excited we were for the opportunity to be at the helm. Unfortunately, things did not go as we had hoped. I also want to be clear that this doesn’t mean the end of my involvement in the Avatar universe. These stories and characters are important to me and the renewed interest and excitement in Avatar and Korra has been inspiring to see.

– -Dante DiMartin

Bryan Konietzko also released a similar statement…

That doesn’t mean the live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender is dead. The show is continuing to move forward, just in a direction its creators didn’t want. Here’s Netflix’s statement on the current status of the project…

We have complete respect and admiration for Michael and Bryan and the story that they created in the Avatar animated series. Although they have chosen to depart the live-action project, we are confident in the creative team and their adaptation.

AVATAR’S AIRBENDING HISTORY

Avatar: The Last Airbender

First off, let’s clear up a possible misconception: This Avatar is not related to the 2009 James Cameron movie Avatar. Their resemblance is in name only, storylines differ greatly.

Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA) is an animated Nickelodeon series that ran for three seasons, 2005-2008. It was created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko and for those three seasons, it brought the highest critical response a series can receive. Not only were critics enthralled with Avatar: The Last Airbender, but audiences were also pulled in by the wonderful balance of drama and humor the series provided.

Avatar: The Last Airbender tells the story of Aang and his journey as the Last Airbender and is set in a world where human civilization is comprised of four nations. Each nation is named after the four elements: the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, the Water Tribes and the Air Nomads. In these nations, there are individuals who are known as “benders”, they have the ability to control and manipulate their nation’s element through martial arts.

The Avatar is the one person who keeps peace and harmony between the four nations and humans and spirits. He is the only one who has the ability to bend all four elements. When the Avatar dies, his reincarnated spirit goes to the next Avatar. Aang is this Avatar.

BUT THAT MOVIE

Avatar: the Last Airbender movie

Yes, part of the franchise’s history is tied to M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Glass). In 2010, Shyamalan wrote and directed The Last Airbender, based on the animated series. It has become known as one of the most reviled movies in history, critically panned and sending fans into a frenzy. And by frenzy, we mean not a good one.

NETFLIX TO THE RESCUE

Not only did Netflix bend in to save the day, but they also brought in creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko to be the showrunners and executive producers for the live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender series.

Netflix feels the series is in great hands with these two, as does The Last Airbender animated series head writer Aaron Ehasz says. “I think it’s an opportunity for the fans,” Ehasz tells Inverse. “It’s definitely an opportunity for Mike and Brian to do a live-action telling of this story right, which I think is both going to be a combination of how they cast it, how they creatively cast it, who are the producers and writers involved.” Unfortunately, Ehasz’s is not directly involved in the new series as he is involved with his own series, The Dragon Prince, at Netflix.

THE PLOT OF NETFLIX’S LIVE-ACTION AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER

While Netflix hasn’t come out with an official synopsis, it is said that the new live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender will closely mirror the animated show. They would be smart to follow this path as it was such a huge hit for Nickelodeon.

While it does seem like the live-action version’s showrunners are pretty committed to sticking with the basic plot of the animated series, we’re hearing more and more about the things they will change. The latest is that they plan to introduce new characters and subplots. What those are is unknown, but we do know the live-action version won’t be identical to the original.

Getting more specific DiMartino and Konietzko have been rumored to be reworking Avatar: The Last Airbender’s ending. Some fans already think that’s a bit of a cop-out, with a giant lion turtle showing up out of nowhere to tell Aang what he needs to do. It seems this aspect in particular may be one of the things the live-action version may change.

Another thing they may be considering doing differently from the animated series involves Zuko. In the animated show Zuko’s mother vanishes in flashbacks, but we never really find out there what happened to her. For the Netflix Last Airbender, word is that Zuko may eventually find his mother.

AVATAR’S LIVE-ACTION NETFLIX CAST

One of the biggest issues fans and critics had with Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender was its lack of diversity when it came to casting. They all felt he whitewashed his cast. The new version looks to change that.

Reportedly diversity is a big focus for casting on Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender. The show’s creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko are extremely progressive and have always wanted to include more LGBTQ characters in their shows. That was harder for them to do in the past, but it’s not hard now, so expect a lot of LGBTQ representation with multiple LGBTQ characters. Some already established characters may even have their sexual orientation changed for the new show.

But specifically, various sources say the team in charge of making the live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender series is adamant that they won’t cast any white actors at all in leading roles.

Meanwhile word is that actor Ken Watanabe is being eyed for the part of the Fire Lord in Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender. Watanabe has been in a host of great movies and television shows, doing amazing work over the years. Most notably he starred opposite Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai and he’s also been in such projects as Inception and Godzilla.

Watanabe
Ken Watanabe in The Last Samurai

Voice actress Jessie Flower, who portrayed the voice of Toph in the animated series has this to say on the Wyrd Crafts Chit-Chat podcast, “We are excited about the casting being true to the location and background heritage and all that stuff. Where each nation is based and will be casting from that location. Or at least casting someone who is primarily from that ancestry location.  So they are trying to be really PC about the whole thing.”

It looks like Netflix and the series creators are trying hard to stick to the original vision of the animated Avatar series, which will be a great thing to see in live-action form.

WHEN WILL LIVE-ACTION AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER ARRIVE ON NETFLIX?

Netflix's Live-Action Avatar: The Last Airbender

According to Flower, Netflix’s live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender expects to go into production in February of 2020.

In late May of 2019, Konietzko offered this update on the series status via his Instagram: “We’re moving into a new office space, transitioning into the next phase of production. Our core team is growing. We’re writing, planning, and testing. Though there’s plenty that’s new for us in this live-action process, we’ve been on this long rollercoaster ride twice before and a lot of the climbs and twists and turns feel familiar. Right now, everything seems slow, and we’re itching to speed up; before we know it, everything will be moving too fast and happening all at once. For those who are eager to see this new series and are asking if we have a trailer yet: thank you for your enthusiasm, sincerely, but you wouldn’t want to see a version of this series that was made within 9 months. Too much Hollywood fare is fast-tracked and the results speak for themselves. Thankfully for us and this series, Netflix is committed to doing it right.”

Anticipation for Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender remains high, let’s just hope the live-action series lives up to the animated version. It can’t be worse than the live-action Last Airbender movie.

BUILDING ANTICIPATION WITH THE ORIGINAL AIRBENDER

Netflix

The original Avatar: The Last Airbender series has been difficult to watch for awhile. It vanished from streaming services and hasn’t really been airing on traditional television. The series ended its original run in 2008. But now it’s back.

On the morning of May 15, 2020 Netflix dropped the entire original Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series on their streaming service. The move was almost without a doubt fueled by their desire to build anticipation for their upcoming live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender series. And if these reactions are any indication, it’s going to work…

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