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‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ meets thrilling live-action adaptation

The live-action show balances mature and playful elements while staying loyal to the original story’s message
Michae a Pici via Printerval

This review contains some spoilers of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” season one.

Team Avatar has been saving the world since Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender” first aired on Nickelodeon in 2005. Divided into regions based on air, fire, earth, and water, the world around 12-year-old Aang, an airbender training at the Southern Air Temple, existed in harmony. But, when the Fire Nation suddenly attacks and wipes out all of the airbenders, Aang happens to get stuck in a storm simultaneously with his flying bison, Appa. 100 years later, siblings Sokka and Katara of the Southern Water Tribe find Aang and Appa frozen in an iceberg just as the Fire Nation attacks again. From then on, the trio known eventually as Team Avatar go on a quest to restore balance to the world while being chased by the son of Fire Lord Ozai, Zuko, who must capture the Avatar to gain his father’s approval. 

The performances across the board were inspiring, from episode one, “Aang,” to episode eight, the finale, titled “Legends.”

The first season of Netflix’s live-action remake, which was released on Feb. 24,  is based on “Book 1: Water” from the original cartoon.  In terms of casting, I struggled to find flaws. With the cartoon influenced by monastic Tibetan, Thai, Japanese, and indigenous cultures, the Asian and indigenous representation throughout the cast was refreshing and exciting to see. The performances across the board were inspiring, from episode one, “Aang,” to episode eight, the finale, titled “Legends.”

First, Aang was captured perfectly by young Gordon Cormier. I was both impressed and surprised with his ability to balance Aang’s often spirited and sometimes serious natures. His performance was complemented by Sokka (Ian Ousley) and Katara (Kiawentiio), who both had some moments that I enjoyed, but at times missed the mark. Kiawentiio’s Katara especially lacked the emotion from the animation that conveyed the constant pain of losing her mother at a young age and the loneliness throughout her personal journey of learning water bending. Additionally, Sokka, Katara, and Aang’s chemistry as a trio was missing most of the season—in the cartoon, this chemistry was key to the group overcoming so many obstacles throughout their quest. I expect that these issues will improve as the actors grow more confident performing together in future seasons.

On the other hand, the chemistry between Zuko (Dallas Liu) and his uncle, Iroh (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee), was my favorite part of the remake.


Just as Iroh often brought out the honorable qualities in Zuko, Lee worked expertly with Liu to bring humor and even love to the difficult situations they often found themselves in. One of those difficult situations was the conflict with Admiral Zhao (Ken Leung). Next to Lee and Liu’s performances, Leung’s was by far the most striking of the show. As the slayer of the moon spirit in the final episode, Leung truly embodied the Fire Nation’s scalding power and reliance on fear tactics.

This cast helped bring ATLA to life, but the actors did not execute this challenge alone. The visuals of the season were intricate, unique, and surprisingly realistic. Every costume from the Southern Water Tribe to the Fire Nation was extremely detailed, along with the Earth Kingdom city, Omashu, and the Southern Air Temple. I was also very curious to see how the remake would render the Avatar’s four elements of earth, fire, water, and especially air. I found that they all fit in well, completing ATLA’s signature features.


Another one of ATLA’s important markers is the spirit world. This dimension was featured mostly in episode five, “Spirited Away,” and episode six, “Masks,” which was also where more complex themes began to arise. Aang, for example, was forced to begin coming to terms with his role as the Avatar and Zuko grew conflicted in his seemingly infinite anger when Aang saved him from Zhao at the Fire Nation fortress. These moments were a turning point in the season for the characters and my experience as a viewer, as I found myself increasingly invested.

“Avatar: The Last Airbender” has two more seasons confirmed, and there is still much more of Team Avatar’s journey to be reimagined. If season one is any indication, the growing fanbase will not be disappointed.

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Comments (1)

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  • J

    Mar 14, 2024 at 5:52 am

    I am all in. To say, I was disappointed after season one, knowing that season two had not been confirmed, is an understatement. I still believe the animated version has the edge on live action, but that’s only given a choice between the two. I’m not downplaying the live action by any means, it’s great. More can be done with great animation as opposed to live action budget. With that said, I do wish season two of the live action started tomorrow. .