Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is widely regarded as one of the greatest animated series of all time, so it’s not surprising many fans are approaching Netflix’s live-action series with caution. The streaming giant confirmed in September 2018 it was developing a live-action “Avatar” series with original creators DiMartino and Konietzko, but the two showrunners exited the project in August 2020 over creative differences, further fueling fan skepticism of the series. During a virtual reunion for the original “Avatar” voice cast (via Uproxx), many participants questioned the live-action project.
“I just don’t know how you fulfill that any better than [the animated] show did,” said Dee Bradley Baker, who voiced Appa and Momo on the series. “I’m open to whatever they do with the live-action series, which I know nothing about, but it’s like, ‘Well, how do you do this better than the way that it was rendered on this show?’ I don’t know how you do that! I hope you can.”
Olivia Hack, the voice of Ty Lee, said, “Especially when you’re doing the exact same series, but as a live-action. You’re not adding onto it or expanding the universe. You’re doing the same thing, which feels redundant, but I don’t know.”
Andrea Romano served as the voice director on “Avatar” and turned her attention toward M. Night Shyamalan’s notorious 2010 live-action film adaptation, which not only earned critical pans but also industry-wide accusations of whitewashing. Romano called Shyamalan’s movie “very disappointing” and said the filmmaker shut out DiMartino and Konietzko from the creative process.
“It’s not good, I’m sorry,” Romano said. “The first thing is: we were so good with what we set up. That’s it. Because it was animation and because we were setting the bar…I believe there was an ego involved about, ‘This is mine and I’m doing it this way. I don’t care that you two guys [creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko] created this incredibly successful series and have all this information you could give me. I’m pretty much not gonna listen to you and do what I wanna do.’ Which is fine, that’s his prerogative, but that’s why [it didn’t work].”
Shyamalan didn’t involve DiMartino and Konietzko in his movie, and now the Netflix series is not involving the original creators either. DiMartino wrote an open letter on his website in August explaining the creative team’s departure from the Netflix series.
“When Bryan and I signed on to the project in 2018, we were hired as executive producers and showrunners,” DiMartino wrote. “In a joint announcement for the series, Netflix said that it was committed to honoring our vision for this retelling and to supporting us on creating the series. And we expressed how excited we were for the opportunity to be at the helm. Unfortunately, things did not go as we had hoped.”
The open letter continued, “Look, things happen. Productions are challenging. Unforeseen events arise. Plans have to change. And when those things have happened at other points during my career, I try to be like an Air Nomad and adapt. I do my best to go with the flow, no matter what obstacle is put in my way. But even an Air Nomad knows when it’s time to cut their losses and move on.”
All three seasons of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” debuted on Netflix in 2020 and created a surge in popularity around the project. Netflix has not announced release plans for the live-action series.