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Netflix’s live-action adaptation of “Avatar the Last Airbender” removes all the fun from the original cartoon. (Op-Ed)

I grew up with Nickelodeon’s Avatar the Last Airbender. In elementary school, my friends and I would play pretend that we were in the world of powerful benders; we reenacted scenes in our unfinished basements, splashed each other in epic Waterbending fights in our Easy Set pools, and had Agni Kai battles with ribbons to represent fire. ATLA was more than just a simple childhood cartoon, it was a powerful, moving story that heavily impacted my formative years. I forced my parents to take me to see M. Knight Shyamalan’s whitewashed 2010 live-action adaptation The Last Airbender, and my little ten-year-old brain was shocked at how the film butchered a story so dear to my heart. When Netflix premiered the first season of their Avatar the Last Airbender live-action series, I was hesitant, but I watched with an open mind to please my inner child.

Netflix’s mistake was trying to make ATLA into the next Game of Thrones. The original cartoon was for children, but it displayed dark themes in a way that wouldn’t traumatize its viewership (Except for Koh the Face Eater!): duty, honor, genocide, death, and imperialism are just some of the heavy themes present in the original series. Netflix decided to pander to more adult audiences, with the first episode detailing the fascist Fire Nation’s attack on Aang’s (Gordon Cormier) ancestral home that resulted in the ethnic cleansing of an entire population of Airbenders. What a way to start the series; we jumped straight into seeing bodies burnt to a crisp, ash floating everywhere, and screams.

The appeal of the original ATLA was the fact that even with this permeating darkness and impending doom, Aang was still a child who wanted to have fun. Aang does not go penguin sledding with Katara and Sokka, he does not reject the duties of the Avatar in favor of being a child, and he certainly isn’t as funny or silly. Don’t get me wrong, the cast is brilliant, but the writers let them down. I see why the original creators of the cartoon ultimately left the show due to “creative differences.”

The beauty of the original cartoon was that it told a harrowing, dark tale but lessened the burden with fun, lighthearted moments that let the audience grow close to the characters. The new series forgoes almost all the fun, zany moments to focus purely on the action.

This approach works very well for characters like Firelord Ozai (Daniel Dae Kim), Prince Zuko (Dallas James Liu), and Princess Azula (Elizabeth Yu), but not with Aang, Katara (Kiawentiio Tarbell), and Sokka (Ian Ousley). Uncle Iroh (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) is portrayed as a very serious man, whereas in the cartoon, Iroh is the voice of comedic relief, constantly annoying his nephew Zuko on his quest to capture the Avatar. It was rather disappointing to see Iroh so stoic.

If Netflix wanted to make another Game of Thrones, they should not have adapted a beloved children’s TV show into an anxiety-inducing, fearful tale. You just shouldn’t mess with a masterpiece.

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