Producers want Game of Thrones fans to enjoy Avatar: The Last Airbender remake

The upcoming remake of Avatar: The Last Airbender wants to be all things to all people, appealing to fans of the animated original as well as fans of Game of Thrones.
Avatar: The Last Airbender. Ian Ousley as Sokka in episode 101 of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Cr. Robert Falconer/Netflix © 2023
Avatar: The Last Airbender. Ian Ousley as Sokka in episode 101 of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Cr. Robert Falconer/Netflix © 2023 /

Last this month, Netflix will debut Avatar: The Last Airbender, a live-action remake of the beloved animated Nickelodeon show of the same name. We follow a 12-year-old kid named Aang who happens to be the Avatar, the only person in the world who can control all four elements. Together with his friends, he must bring peace to a world at war, a tall order for anyone, let alone a kid.

The original show has stood the test of time. The story is tight, the characters likable and the milieu — the show is set in a fantasy world inspired by East Asian and indigenous cultures, rather than medieval Europe — unique. Showrunner Albert Kim and his team have a tall mountain to climb, particularly because the new show costs a lot and will have to appeal to a lot of people for Netflix to consider it worth their while.

That might be why Kim and company have talked so much about how much more dark and mature this new show is than the original, which was made with kids in mind, at least during the first season. "[W]e had to make it a serialized Netflix drama, which meant it couldn't just be for kids," Kim told IGN. "It had to also appeal to the people who are big fans of Game of Thrones. And so, it had to feel grounded and mature and adult in that way too."

Lest you think that means Aang will be murdering people in front of our eyes, you can rest easy. The producers aren't going so far afield from the original as that; the animated series had lots of goofy humor which will be preserved here. And as Kim points out, the second and third seasons of the show got into some darker themes, although they never went over the line into Game of Thrones-style ultra-violence. I think we can assume that this new version of Avatar: The Last Airbender will put the characters through the emotional wringer, but anyone expecting blood, profanity or sex won't get it. "[T]here are mature themes and storylines throughout, but there's a way to play it so that it doesn't necessarily have to be that graphic in his depiction."

The "Sokka is less sexist now" debate continues

This is an incredibly tricky tightrope to walk, and I don't envy Kim and his team having to do it. How do you make an approachable show full of goofy jokes that kids will enjoy but that adults will also find fascinating, all without stepping over the line into grimdark violence and paying proper homage to an animated series that wasn't made that long ago and people still love?

In some ways, the producers sound like they're sanding down the edges of the old show, although that's open for debate. For instance, there was some discourse the other week about the show making the character of Sokka (voiced by Jack De Sena in the original show and played by Ian Ousley in the new one) less sexist. Avatar: The Last Airbender executive producer Jabbar Raisani agreed with IGN that Sokka was "an asshole" in the first season of the original show, where he makes some backwards comments about gender roles, opining that men hunt and women sew.

"The cartoon, for as great as it was, was 15 years ago. And so, things have changed," Kim said. "I don't want to really get into a lot of that, but some gender issues...didn't quite translate...So we had to guard against that kind of stuff. And so, those are things that aren't really changing a character as so much as updating them a little bit."

The reason this issue caused a minor fracas among fans is that, in the original show, Sokka goes on a small character arc where he realizes that his views about gender roles are misguided. So the producers are talking as if him having those views is unacceptable in today's climate, but if the point of that story is that his views are wrong, wouldn't that message be welcome in today's climate? Are they guarding against potentially problematic characters so much that they're missing an opportunity to reflect what continues to be a real problem among men and boys today, and potentially show them a way to solve it?

I don't know the answers to those questions, by the way; it's just another example of the difficulty of trying to make a show of this size that appeals to so many people, from young new fans to old hands to Game of Thrones enthusiastis. We'll see how it all comes together when the first season drops on Netflix on February 22.

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

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