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First Look at Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender


The first trailer for Netflix’s tentatively awaited live-action adaptation was unveiled on November 9, 2023. The show is set to release on Netflix on February 22, 2024, almost exactly 19 years after the original animated show’s debut on February 21, 2005. 

The Trailer

In this first look, we get glimpses of many key locations, important characters, and iconic scenes from the show’s first season. There are many iconic sights shown like the siege on the Southern Air Temple, Aang’s Iceberg, the city of Omashu, and Appa the air bison flying, just to name a few. 

The Original Avatar: The Last Airbender 

Airing 3 seasons from February 2005 to July 2008 on Nickelodeon, Avatar: The Last Airbender is a fantasy action and adventure series in a world where people can be born with the ability to control the four elements: water, earth, fire, and air. The world of Avatar is organized into 4 nations, inhabited by the benders of the respective elements. There are the pacifist Air Nomads, the Northern and Southern Water Tribes, the imperial Fire Nation, and the continent-spanning Earth Kingdom. Only one person, the Avatar, can control all four elements. In the Avatar: The Last Airbender timeline, the Avatar is the fun-loving airbender boy Aang who has been frozen in an iceberg for the past hundred years. Discovered and freed by the Water Tribe siblings Katara and Sokka, Aang realizes that he must use his powers to save the world from the conquest of the vicious Fire Nation. 

The show is beloved by people of many ages and considered to be one of the best animated shows of all time. To list some of the show’s accolades, it is rated 9.3/10 on IMDb, has won multiple Annie awards and an Emmy, and reached number one on Netflix in 2020. 

Fan Reaction 

This Netflix adaptation is the only live-action adaptation apart from the infamous The Last Airbender (2010) directed by M. Night Shamalayan, which was strongly attacked by fans and critics alike for uninteresting and whitewashed characters, terrible special effects, and overall bad execution. In the words of critic Roger Ebert “‘The Last Airbender’ is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented.” Fortunately, there are good signs that this new adaptation will at least be better than the 2010 version and may even offer some pleasant surprises to viewers. 

Fans’ reactions online to the trailer are leaning towards hopeful and enthusiastic. Some points of praise are the accurate casting and character design, the attention to bending the elements, and the score. 

One key aspect which has been in discussion for a while is the ethnic accuracy of the casting. Ethnic white-washing is a major issue in films and television shows, and it is one of the most commonly mentioned critiques of Shamalayan’s adaptation: however, Netflix has steered clear of that problem through its diverse casting. The show’s characters are largely depicted as East Asian and Arctic Indigenous Peoples, and the casting largely remains true to the source material. Some examples are Filipino-French Gordon Cormier playing Aang, Mohawk Kiawentiio playing Katara, and Chinese-Indonesian Dallas Liu playing Prince Zuko. Although Netflix had already released images of the cast members in costume, the fans have enjoyed finally seeing the characters in motion with accurate representation in the casting. 

The depiction of bending the elements was also a thrilling sight as it was smoothly rendered via special effects. The bending was another large concern for fans. In the original show, animation was used to create the magic of manipulating the elements for large and small tasks. Whether it was creating a destructive wall of fire or gently pushing a small boat through the water, the animated bending always looked natural, powerful, and smooth. Fortunately, the few scenes shown in the trailer suggest that the bending could be convincingly shown through special effects. The trailer includes Fire Nation soldiers propelling themselves with fire, Aang creating a gust of wind with his staff, and earthbenders opening the large stone walls of Omashu. 

The score, composed by Takeshi Furukawa, was also given praise. The main orchestral theme taken from the original soundtrack plays in the trailer, bringing back good memories for fans. Many fans reacted by saying that they felt goosebumps when the main theme came in, and they were excited to hear the original score renewed in epic orchestral form. 

Closing Thoughts & Concerns About the Show

As anticipating as the show looks and sounds, the handling of the story remains to be seen. Unfortunately, the initial news has not been especially promising. The creators of the animated series, Brian Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, were originally on the project board as executive producers, but they left the production in 2020 after losing creative control. DiMartino even went as far as to say that the show “will not be what Bryan and I had envisioned or intended to make.” Whether this news is a bad sign for the show will only be known when the show is released. 

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