Avatar: The Last Airbender fans worry the Netflix remake misses the point of the original show

Avatar: The Last Airbender is a big new show for Netflix, but this week, most of the discourse online has been dominated by fans concerned it's going to miss the mark.
Avatar: The Last Airbender. Gordon Cormier as Aang in episode 101 of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Cr. Robert Falconer/Netflix © 2023
Avatar: The Last Airbender. Gordon Cormier as Aang in episode 101 of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Cr. Robert Falconer/Netflix © 2023 /

Netflix's live-action remake of Avatar: The Last Airbender hits the streaming service in just a few weeks. The original show is much beloved, and the remake looks pretty solid; the production design is stunning and the cast has made a good impression.

But in the past few days, fans online have expressed concern over some of the changes the show is making in the leap from animation to live-action. They wonder if the new showrunner understand what made the original series work. First, there was a dust-up over the character of Sokka, voiced by Jack De Sena in the original show and played by Ian Ousley in the remake. When the animated series begins, the 16-year-old Sokka holds sexist views about the roles of men and women. As he meets a series of strong, capable women throughout his journey, he quickly abandons those views. It's a small but significant bit of character development for him, but the new show has purportedly removed or toned down Sokka's early sexism, since moments where he expresses his backwards perspective were deemed too "iffy" for modern audiences.

So the complaint here is that the new show has removed a character arc meant to show how Sokka's sexist views are wrong in the name of protecting people who might feel uncomfortable after hearing Sokka sharing those views, even if they're condemned. Fans are worried that this demonstrates a lack of understanding of the original series by showrunner Albert Kim and his team, and it's not the only example.

Avatar: The Last Airbender fans concerned about the new Aang

In an interview with IGN, Albert Kim talks about how they're changing a few things about the main character Aang, the titular last airbender. Aang is a 12-year-old kid who happens to be the Avatar, the only person in this world who can control all four elements: air, water, fire and earth. It's Aang's duty to keep the world in balance, which is a big job for a fun-loving boy who just wants to have a good time. Aang runs from this responsibility and ends up getting trapped in an iceberg for 100 years. Without the Avatar around, the tyrannical Fire Nation wages an expansionist war against the rest of the world.

This is what Aang wakes up to as our story begins. In the original show, Aang does eventually accept his responsibility as the Avatar, but it takes him a while to get there, since a big part of him just wants to be a kid. So early on, he gets easily distracted from his epic destiny. Albert Kim makes it sound like they're cutting that part of his personality out:

"In the first season of the animated series, he's kind of going from place to place looking for adventures. He even says, "First, we've got to go and ride the elephant koi." It's a little looser as befits a cartoon. We needed to make sure that he had that drive from the start. And so, that's a change that we made. We essentially give him this vision of what's going to happen and he says, "I have to get to the Northern Water Tribe to stop this from happening." That gives him much more narrative compulsion going forward, as opposed to, "Let's make a detour and go ride the elephant koi," that type of thing. So that's something, again, that's part of the process of going from a Nickelodeon cartoon to a Netflix serialized drama."

Although there's room for interpretation, a lot of fans have looked at this quote and assumed the worst. For example:

  • @ResonantJustice: "So they’ve completely missed the point of Aang’s journey and character arc in Book 1. He was a kid thrust with so much responsibility at a young age. He wanted to be able to have a childhood; have fun, until forced to confront the reality of how important his responsibility was."

All of those complaints have been liked and retweeted thousands or even tens of thousands of times, so they're getting traction among fans. Should they be worried?

Are Avatar: The Last Airbender fans right to worry about the remake?

Well, I don't think any of the quotes being shared bode particularly well for the remake, but it should be noted that they're small parts clipped out of huge interviews. Generally, Kim and his collaborators seem to have a lot of love and respect for the original show. I don't know if we should hold a couple of errant quotes against them until we see more. Alternations do have to made as the animated show becomes a live-action series, and it's possible that these alterations won't seem so bad in the context of the finished show.

On the other hand, I don't blame anyone who looks at these attempts to simplify things — taking out Sokka's sexism, ignoring Aang's habit of getting distracted very easily — and worrying that they bode ill for the show as a whole. And then there's Kim's talk about wanting the new Last Airbender show to appeal to both fans of the original series — which was made with kids in mind but robust enough to be enjoyed by adults — and making it appeal to "people who are big fans of Game of Thrones," a show that was very much not made with kids in mind. If Kim and company can pull off this balancing act, it will be a triumph. But if they err just a little to one side or the other, they could fall down and bring the show with them.

The first season of Avatar: The Last Airbender premieres on Netflix on February 22. We'll hope for the best, but if fans want to assume crash positions, we won't blame them.

Next. atla. Every actor in Netflix’s Avatar: the Last Airbender remake (and who they’re playing). dark

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