5 Things The Avatar Movie Got Wrong Netflix Can Get Right

That 2010 movie attempted to cram all of Season 1 into 110 minutes, a Sisyphean task even in the most generous terms. Crucial plot points were skipped, important characters dropped from view, and subtext shattered, all wrapped in murky 3D postprocessing. For those who have seen only the movie and were turned off from even touching the cartoon, here’s a spoiler-free rundown of the big parts of Season 1 that were bungled in the movie, and why we’re excited to see them potentially done right in live-action streaming.

Like, Actually Saying People’s Names Right, Maybe?

(Photo by Nickelodeon / Courtesy: Everett Collection)

On the long list of the movie’s ignominious infamies was the characters’ inability to pronounce names consistently, Aang’s especially, despite three seasons of reference material. What did Shyamalan need, Berlitz tapes?

There was also that tidal wave of whitewashing. The core of Avatar‘s plot revolves around four island nations locked in war, with each’s identity based on real indigenous and Asian cultures, e.g. the Inuit, Tibetan, Chinese, and Japanese. The melting hot pot aspect is one of the stand-out draws of the show, which of course Hollywood interpreted as whites-only for the hero roles.

DiMartino and Konietzko have had to live with the sting of the live-action disaster longer than anyone, and immediately quelled any concerns with their Netflix announcement: “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.”

In this new popular entertainment world of Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panthers, where audiences are contributing to get representative media to the top and expecting industry suits to start paying attention, this was absolutely the right way to get cautious and burned fans back on board.

A Proper Aang Backstory

(Photo by Nickelodeon / Courtesy: Everett Collection)

The opening to every episode included this voiceover bit: “Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them. But when the world needed him most, he vanished.”

The Netflix show doesn’t (and shouldn’t) need to mimic everything the cartoon did, as long as it communicates the themes of Last Airbender that the movie ignored: its spirituality, its cyclical nature, and its concept of reincarnation.

More Momo Moments

(Photo by Nickelodeon / Courtesy: Everett Collection)

Momo, a winged lemur who joins the main characters at the Southern Air Temple, gets about five camera shots in the movie. Which is a shame, because Momo is one of Aang’s most cherished companions: in the cartoon, their interactions allow both playful levity and Aang’s irrepressible youth to shine.

And Momo wasn’t the only character to get theatrical short shrift. There wasn’t much of Appa, the Falkor-like bison and Team Avatar’s main mode of transportation. Meanwhile, the subplot about the Blue Spirit and his hidden identity was rushed and dropped like burning coal. And where was Cabbage Man throughout this mess?

Restoring The Earthbenders’ Reputation

(Photo by Nickelodeon)

Towards the middle of Season 1, Aang visits a remote prison where firebenders hold demoralized earthbenders captive. In the show, the prison is constructed of metal, preventing the earthbenders from using their arts to retaliate. In the movie, the prison is made of dirt, but the earthbenders don’t fight back because they’re, like, sad or something? Aang cheers them up, leading to this infamous moment of warriors summoning their elemental might… to slowly bobble a rock in mid-air.

This scene has become the purest expression of everything wrong with the movie: hammy acting, bad action choreography, unimpressive special effects, and a touch of the white savior trope (the earthbenders are the only East Asians in the movie and they’re completely useless). Netflix gets the opportunity to set this proud clan right again.

The Return of the Kyoshi Warriors

(Photo by Nickelodeon)

Between the Southern Air Temple and freeing the imprisoned earthbenders, Team Avatar recruits the Kyoshi Warriors, an all female band of vibrant, theatrical fighters. They’re fan favorites, cosplay staples, important to the overarching story… and completely absent from the movie.

One of the all-ages appeal of Avatar: The Last Airbender is the disparate variety of people inhabiting the screen. Every viewer has a different favorite character: The classic hero Aang, the responsible Katara, the jokester Sokka, the redemptive Zuko, the small and tough Toph, or maybe the fierce yet romantic Suki, leader of the Kyoshi Warriors. Remove characters, and you remove potential entry points for prospective viewers.

Not only do fans want to see their favorites restored and in live action, but also who DiMartino and Konietzko will get to introduce for the retelling of the Avatar legend.

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