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The Student-Run News Site of Carnegie Vanguard High School

Upstream News

The Student-Run News Site of Carnegie Vanguard High School

Upstream News

Avatar The Last Airbender Review: Not my cabbages!

Chloe Tran
Avatar: The Last Airbender posters from the original series (Nickelodeon, left), the new live-action series (Netflix, middle), and the live-action movie (Paramount, right)

Disclaimer: This review will contain major spoilers for the “Avatar: The Last Airbender” franchise.

“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.”

This iconic introduction, franchise, Team Avatar, and most importantly, their fans, are back. From its origin as an animated series in 2005, to its first live-action rendition in 2010, a sequel animated series (“The Legend of Korra”) in 2012, and now, as a 2024 live-action series; has “Avatar: The Last Airbender” really come back better than ever?

As the original Nickelodeon show “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (ATLA) remains a cherished part of many childhoods, its characters continue to hold a special place in the hearts of countless fans worldwide. Aang and his youthful yet heroic acts, Katara with her fierce and growing strength, Sokka for his corny remarks, the cabbage man with his.. well, cabbages; the list goes on. It’s no wonder why Paramount illicitly put over 150 million dollars into making the show’s first live-action adaptation. But how did it turn out?

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Comparison between live-action (Paramount, left – Mashable) and animated series (Nickelodeon, right – Slate) Cabbage Man, both played by actor James Sie (Chloe Tran)

Bad—just bad. Accredited as one of the worst movies ever made, the film garnered an impressive five percent on Rotten Tomatoes and 4/10 on IMDb, grossing just 20 percent of its expected earnings. 

And it’s no wonder why these reviews are so bad. Even the least seasoned ATLA fan would at the very least know how to pronounce the main character’s name, “Aang.” (This is in contrast to Paramount’s butchered “Ah-ng”.) Additionally, more seasoned fans have the foresight of the fact that there are only supposed to be minor age gaps between Team Avatar, along with how physically and mentally draining the fight scenes are supposed to be portrayed. And sure the CGI wasn’t perfect, but the acting itself was extremely lackluster. Paramount Studios didn’t allow the 2010 adaptation to live up to the standards of the critically acclaimed show.

“Thank the spirits” that Nickelodeon was able to revive the prowess of ATLA with a sequel, “The Legend of Korra.” This two-year series expanded on lore by following the story of Korra, the next incarnation of the Avatar who must follow in Aang’s footsteps in a new type of spiritual and industrial warfare. The series, while clearing up plot holes, introduced old and new characters, creating an efficient transition between generations and touching the hearts of nostalgic fans.

And now, almost a decade and 120 million dollars later, Netflix (in partnership with Nickelodeon) has released their long-awaited live-action series! The studio will be releasing season-by-season. The Feb. 22 debut of the 8-episode “Book 1: Water” season is in line with the naming scheme for the animated series. The series ultimately wanted to interest nostalgic fans of the series, releasing teasers of the crucial scene adaptations on various media, while gaining a new fanbase in a social media era. But the question is: did the franchise’s second attempt at a live-action adaptation live up to the hype?

A newcomer’s review:

Having heard so many good things about ATLA (but never having seen the original show), I was excited to finally indulge in a rendition of the story.

Right off the bat, I was drawn in by the show’s stunning visuals. From the tranquil mountains of the Southern Air Temple to the lush greenery seen while soaring on sky bison Appa’s back, the ATLA live-action’s breathtaking imagery does a fantastic job of portraying the show’s ethereal world. Moreover, the CGI looked pretty realistic, not only making the bending more dynamic but also bringing fictional creatures like Momo the flying lemur, and Appa to life.

As for the story itself—to be honest, the plot of the animated ATLA show struck me as somewhat mundane, which is why I hadn’t gotten around to watching it yet. But after watching the live-action, it’s clear that I’ve been missing out. The ATLA storyline turned out to be more interesting than I’d thought.

First off, I enjoyed the show’s combination of action and heartfelt emotion. Some scenes tugged at my heartstrings (especially Aang’s reunion with Gyatso after a hundred years of being apart). I also really liked how almost every episode introduced a new location or tribe, expanding the world’s lore in a way that kept the narrative fresh and intriguing.

However, the show also felt a bit fast-paced at times. It seemed like the producers were just trying to cram as much as they could into one episode, so certain scenes felt a little rushed or glossed over.

Moreover, Katara’s sudden mastery of water bending was a little confusing to me. In just a few episodes, she transitioned from barely being able to manipulate a single droplet to being able to duel the chief of the Northern Water Tribe. The show portrays bending as a master craft that takes years to learn, so I found it a little perplexing that she got the hang of it just by listening to Jet’s little pep talk.

But I can’t forget to mention my favorite aspect of the whole show—the characters. I loved the main crew’s dynamic, Aang’s optimism combined with Katara’s empathy and Sokka’s wit managed to create the perfect balance of humor, emotion and adventure. It was also nice to watch Zuko’s character development throughout the show, seeing him morph from an all-evil villain into the caring boy he once was (not to mention how wholesome his relationship with Iroh is). Meanwhile, I also found myself getting attached to minor characters like Suki and Jet. With how little screen time they had and how unresolved their departures felt, I’m hoping they’ll appear again in the future to build their stories more.

Regardless of my complaints, I’ll be binge-watching the animated series too. The live-action has definitely converted me into a fan!!!

A veteran’s review:

I’ll never forget the week Hurricane Harvey struck Houston: streets were flooded, the toilet paper my family had stockpiled lined the shelves of my pantry, and I sprawled on top of my sister, finishing all three seasons of ATLA and the entirety of Legend of Korra a few months after. Or those long months in quarantine, where I rewatched both seasons back to back from beginning to end. At one point I even read a few of the book series that, while didn’t add to the plot of the main series, encompassed many short narratives of Team Avatar and their origin stories. 

Needless to say, I was more than ready when the rumors for this movie rolled out a year prior. After watching the new series, the only word I could think of to describe this new adaptation was “fundamental.”

Don’t get me wrong. I loved this new intro scene. Rather than jumping straight into the present where Sokka and Katara stumble upon the boy in the iceberg, we get context and a never-before-seen fight scene. That’s the thing. “Never before seen.” Part of me thought we’d be getting a lot of that in this series. Rumors speculated that the Kyoshi warriors would get their spotlight, not a mere 45 minutes of side-quest accomplishment.

It wasn’t just the Kyoshi warriors. After looking past the wave of nostalgia that ran through my veins, I started realizing how much plot we were missing out on.

Where’s Katara and Aang’s development as waterbenders? In the original series, we see Aang take a short, but talented hand at waterbending (which he doesn’t learn or master by the end of the first season in this new live-action), causing Katara to create inner conflicts about whether or not she’s fit to be a waterbender. Here, in the live-action at the Northern Water Tribe, we don’t see Pakku realize his relationship with Katara’s family or his realization that she deserves to be taught. She also doesn’t get taught how to heal whatsoever. With Aang not learning how to water bend by the end of the season, it seems like Katara materializes skills out of thin air, a miracle that not even an Airbender could produce.

Aang learning how to water bend in Episode 9, Book 1: Water of the Nickelodeon ATLA series (Animation Hero’s)

What about the glossed-over romance between Aang and Katara? Sure, the characters are 12 and 14 years old, but the animated series fostered a powerful connection between the two protagonists, something that the live-action treats as a platonic friendship. The growth of both romantic and familial relationships is what keeps Team Avatar a true team in the later seasons.

There were lots of spontaneous “moments of magical realization” that will be confusing to new watchers. Additionally, there were so many little details that were missed from the animation that I first attributed to the fact that 20 animated episodes were condensed into eight live-action episodes. I thought they had to cut some plot for budgeting reasons, but after calculating, it came to my surprise that both series had similar total run times.

If you’re looking for the bare bones of “Avatar comes back after a hundred years ready to save the world with his friends,” this adaptation does achieve that. With the lack of explanation on “lore” and plot holes, I think nostalgia will bring more fans in than the overall movie design.

So that’s my biggest gripe, the plot. Other than that, the series did have many positives besides the nostalgia factor. 

The visual effects were stunning. Visuals of settings like the Southern Air Temple, Omashu, and Northern Water Tribe were breathtaking. Most importantly, THE BENDING LOOKS REAL. I’m so grateful that the bending doesn’t look like a drag-and-drop effect in Microsoft Paint.

I’m also super happy with the casting. All the main characters’ visual appearance and mannerisms align just right with their character design and ages. The only flaw I saw was Princess Yue’s white wig, but everyone else’s physical features blended into their bodies (whether with CGI or not) extremely well. There are a few controversies on the actor who plays Sokka, and how he isn’t fully indigenous like the studio wanted to cast, but I don’t mind. Ian Ousley fits the character of Sokka very accurately and a great actor can make a great movie among many others. 

So, from an experienced fan’s perspective, I truly believe that the Netflix adaptation is a good introduction to the franchise, and an enjoyable series for slightly older fans (versus the kids and teens the cartoon targeted). But, if you want to indulge in the lore for the world of Avatar, then the original series will NEVER be beaten.

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About the Contributors
Chloe Tran
Chloe Tran, Staff Writer, Social Media Manager
Chloe Tran is a sophomore at CVHS. When she's not acing her classes, you'll likely spot her playing libero for the Carnegie varsity volleyball team, or dancing to Enhypen in the school’s KPOP dance group. But Chloe's interests don't stop there; she's also a wordsmith at heart. Writing is her way of exploring diverse perspectives, and she loves writing and decorating letters to send to her friends. And as for her culinary adventures, this ESTJ dynamo is up for any challenge – except for cucumbers. Korean BBQ, Japanese hotpot, you name it, and Chloe’s all in.
Kaylee Yang
Kaylee Yang, Staff Writer
A current sophomore at CVHS, Kaylee is an introverted artist who has been making doodles since she can remember. When her sketchbook is closed, you can find her listening to music with her cat, Fae, or making a homemade dessert for her family. When it comes to movies and shows, she enjoys the fantasy genre, some of her favorites including the “Guardians of the Galaxy” series, "Death Note", and "Spirited Away".
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    Nadia TalankerMar 4, 2024 at 1:39 pm

    im sure a majority of people our age have either watched all of ATLA or have seen episodes briefly while scrolling TV. either way, this was such an impactful and huge show for our generation that you’d think they’d do the adaptation right but noo :,) amazing writing and i loved the comparisons!! great work