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Return of the Airbender: Nickelodeon show receives a chance at revitalization

By Ivy Velasquez

In 2010, the live-action movie adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender, was released. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, The Last Airbender had been the source of a lot of excitement. After the end of the Nickelodeon series in 2008, fans of the show were looking forward to a fresh take on the story they all grew up watching.

The excitement almost immediately died as soon as the movie came out. For those who had never seen the show, it was a decent movie. But for fans, it became known as “The-Movie-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named” (seriously, if I even bring up this movie to a friend of mine, she insists that it doesn’t exist).

Fans despised it so much that a joke was started, saying even the episode, “The Ember Island Players,” was better than the movie. This was an episode that was written as a parody of the series; its purpose was to get the show wrong. And yes, it was a lot better than the movie.

For the past 10 years, fans have relied for new content within the franchise from their graphic novels. There was also the sequel show, The Legend of Korra, but that ended in 2014.

However, in mid-September of 2018, there was an announcement that may very well give fans another chance at the live-action they always wanted.

Netflix will release a live-action version of Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA). This time, it won’t be just a movie that tries to squeeze a whole season’s worth of episodes into a two-hour time slot. No, this will essentially be a reboot to the show. What makes this announcement most promising is that the original show creators, Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, are going to be the executive producers and showrunners.

DiMartino and Konietzko have promised a “culturally-appropriate, non-whitewashed” cast. They hope to dig deeper into the story and the characters; who knows, this may even be a chance for the graphic novels to be realized onto the screen. Netflix has also promised to honor the creators’ retelling.

If done right, the live-action could vastly make up for the movie that disappointed so many. It could also open up opportunities to explore parts of the characters’ stories that the creators may not have been able to in the original. Though it may take some time to get used to the CGI version of Appa. Let’s just hope they do better than whatever they tried to create in the movie.

As if this reboot of a childhood favorite wasn’t exciting enough, Team Avatar have been busy on other projects as well.

Former head-writer and co-executive producer of ATLA, Aaron Ehasz, has partnered with Justin Richmond to bring forth the Netflix original series, The Dragon Prince. Giancarlo Volpe, former director of ATLA, is also the executive producer of the show, and some of the original composers have joined The Dragon Prince team as well.

The Dragon Prince is about a world in which humans and dragons are at war. During the latest battle, the humans killed the Dragon King and destroyed his only egg, or so they were led to believe. The series follows the two human princes, Callum (voiced by Jack Patrick DeSena, who also voiced Sokka from ATLA), Ezran, and dark elf Rayla as they go on a journey to save both sides.

After just a couple of episodes, the presence of the ATLA team is very evident, with similar music and style to the series. However, it definitely has its own sense of humor and storytelling.

The art style is one that takes a little while to get used to. It’s the type that almost feels like the viewer is watching a video game. It’s a little annoying, but not something one can’t get past.

The show deals with social issues such as racism and a few stereotypes. There is one character who is the leader of the human army, but is mute and uses sign language to communicate. While this was really cool to see, it would have been nice if the creators had provided subtitle translations when the character was signing without an interpreter. Even those fluent in ASL will likely have a hard time reading the signs through the animation.

With only a nine-episode long season, the story felt a little rushed and ended rather abruptly. But, it feels like a very promising story, worthy of one such as ATLA. With a second season just approved to be released in 2019 and a video game already in the works, the audience won’t have to wait long for the continuation.

Without a release date for the live-action series, fans will have to continue to rely on the continued graphic novel series and updates from Netflix a little bit longer. Not to mention the novel, Rise of Kyoshi, coming out in the summer of 2019. But with the news that has already been released about the series, it looks like it’ll be worth the wait.

Ivy Velasquez can be reached at ivelisse.velazquez@spartans.ut.edu.

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