Ten years after Avatar: The Last Airbender aired its series finale, ending a three-season run that garnered it an Emmy win and universal critical acclaim (the series holds 100% on Rotten Tomatoes), Aang and his friends are set to take flight again.
In a rather under-the-radar announcement–made via a tweet from the Netflix account “See What’s Next”–the streaming giant revealed concept art for an upcoming live-action “reimagining” of the animated fantasy series, which ran for three seasons from 2005-2008 on Nickelodeon channel. The original series imagined a world divided up into four nations–earth, fire, water, and air–each of which is home to people who can manipulate the elements at will. Humorous, adventurous, and filled with powerful life lessons influenced by Eastern spiritual teachings, the original series was a classic hero’s journey in its own right. The series was set one hundred years into a brutal war that left entire peoples wiped out, and centered on a group of goofy teens trying to save the world against the odds. The voice cast notably included Mae Whitman, Grey Griffin (then credited as Grey DeLisle), Dante Basco, Jason Isaacs, and Mark Hamill.
Unlike the M. Night Shyamalan-directed adaptation, this version will be helmed by the original series’ creators, Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino. Though little is known about the upcoming series outside of what’s shown in John Staub’s concept art image of Aang and his flying bison Appa, the co-creators released a statement, also posted on Konietzko’s official Tumblr, with a few hints at what’s to come:
“We’re thrilled for the opportunity to helm this live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender. We can’t wait to realize Aang’s world as cinematically as we always imagined it to be, and with a culturally appropriate, non-whitewashed cast.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to build upon everyone’s great work on the original animated series and go even deeper into the characters, story, action, and world-building. Netflix is wholly dedicated to manifesting our vision for this retelling, and we’re incredibly grateful to be partnering with them.”
The much-loved franchise may be a pop cultural blindspot for viewers who didn’t fall into the generation that discovered it during its original run, but it holds an impressive 9.2 rating on IMDb and is ripe territory for “reimagining.” It’s unclear how closely this live-action retelling will hew to the original, but the series has plenty to expand on. It’s already continued with a moodier sequel show set seventy years later (Avatar: Legend of Korra, which made waves by including a canon LGBT couple featuring central characters in its finale), several comic arcs ranging from lighthearted to political, and an upcoming young adult novel.
While adaptations of beloved childhood stories usually elicit mixed responses, today’s announcement has already garnered nearly 50,000 retweets, and responses from fans have been largely positive. This is likely due in part to lingering fan resentment toward Shyamalan’s universally disappointing 2010 adaptation, which was criticised for (among other things) its overt white-washing of characters whose rich cultural heritages were paramount to the central story. Each of the four nations featured in the animated series was inspired by ancient global traditions, with major influences including China, Japan, Southeast Asia, Tibet, and Inuit and Pacific Islander nations. Konietzko’s and DiMartino’s statement directly addresses their goal of reinstating these central influences.
Although the original story has crossover appeal, an Avatar title also fits neatly into a rather overlooked but likely lucrative niche category of Netflix content: adaptations of franchises that appeal to the nostalgia of emerging adults. Already, the streaming network has presented shows related to A Series of Unfortunate Events, Spy Kids, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Shrek, and even the Christian video series VeggieTales. Though a live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender would likely more closely resemble any number of high-budget fantasy epics than these kids’ shows, the built-in fan base is still a clear plus for Netflix.