Avatar: The Last Airbender fans are already worried about Netflix series

The series premieres on Netflix on Friday, 22 February

Kiawentiio as Katara, Gordon Cormier as Aang, Ian Ousley as Sokka in Avatar: The Last Airbender. (Netflix)
Kiawentiio as Katara, Gordon Cormier as Aang, Ian Ousley as Sokka in Avatar: The Last Airbender, which is an adaptation of the Nickelodeon animation. (Netflix)

Nickelodeon's iconic animation Avatar: The Last Airbender is being brought to life in live-action for Netflix, but fans of the original already fear the streamer has "missed the point" of the source material after learning of a number of changes that have been made to the story.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is set in a world where people from different nations are able to manipulate, or "bend", one of four elements: earth, water, air and fire. There is one person, Aang, also known as the Avatar, who has the potential to learn all four, and he goes on a journey with friends to achieve this and along the way learns of the terror Fire Nation has wrought in their world.

The animation was told over the course of three "books" from 2005 to 2008, and it saw Aang and his friends grow and develop as people through the experiences they have. However, the creators for the Netflix live-action has revealed the significant changes they have made to the story to this narrative.

AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER, Aang, 2005-08. photo: © Nickelodeon / Courtesy: Everett Collection
Avatar: The Last Airbender follows Aang, also known as the Avatar, who has the potential to learn to bend all four elements, and he goes on a journey to achieve this before finding his purpose. (Nickelodeon)

Speaking with IGN, showrunner Albert Kim and executive producer Jabbar Raisani shared their intention to streamline the story from the animated series' first season, making it less about Aang "going from place to place looking for adventures" and instead giving him direct reasons for visiting important locations — though they insist his childish nature will remain the same.

Read more: Everything you need to know about Avatar: The Last Airbender

Of why they did this, Kim explained: "That gives him much more narrative compulsion going forward, as opposed to, 'Let's make a detour and go ride the elephant koi,' that type of thing. So that's something, again, that's part of the process of going from a Nickelodeon cartoon to a Netflix serialised drama."

The pair also discussed their plans to change certain aspects of characters like Sokka, namely his sexist views at the start of the series, and his sister Katara, whose character arc featured "some gender issues that didn't quite translate" onscreen, according to Kim.

Ian Ousley as Sokka Avatar: The Last Airbender (Netflix)
Several aspects of the story is being changed for the Netflix version, Sokka's initial sexist views are being toned down for the show, and Aang won't go on as many detours. (Netflix)

Discussing how they picked what to change and what to keep the same, Kim added: "It was about striking that right balance, of making sure you were true to the DNA of the original. But at the same time, we had to make it a serialised Netflix drama, which meant it couldn't just be for kids.

"It had to also appeal to the people who are big fans of Game of Thrones. And so, it had to feel grounded and mature and adult in that way too. So that's, like I said, the tightrope that we have to walk."

These remarks, and what the showrunner said about changes, left some fans of the original series irate, with several sharing their concerns that the new take on the story had "misinterpreted" important aspects of the animation on social media.

Kiawentiio as Katara in Avatar: The Last Airbender (Netflix)
Katara's character arc is also being changed in some ways because it featured 'some gender issues that didn't quite translate' according to the showrunner. (Netflix)

Taking to X, formerly known as Twitter, one person wrote: "So they’ve completely missed the point of Aang’s journey and character arc in Book 1. He was a kid thrust with so much responsibility at a young age. He wanted to be able to have a childhood; have fun, until forced to confront the reality of how important his responsibility was."

Another fan of the animation wrote: "in the past few days, the netflix #AvatarTheLastAirbender series has: misinterpreted sokka’s sexism, misinterpreted katara’s nurturing role, misinterpreted aang’s detour, wants to make atla like game of thrones, every new thing i learn makes me lose faith, pls stop."

One viewer criticised the plan to make the show like Game of Thrones, saying: "is it too much to ask for avatar to get an adaptation that actually stays true to the storyline and that is not a 'serialised drama'?", while another said: "My expectations keep going down and down! #AvatarTheLastAirbender was never “just for kids” and if you think that you clearly didn’t get it! I’m scared!"

In response to changes, one person said: "When I saw the article I was gonna TRY and give 'em a chance... BUT REALLY?! WE CHANGING #AvatarTheLastAirbender THIS MUCH FOR WHAT?! Literally, Sokka learning that he was wrong all along about women GREW him as a character and Aang going on these sidequests to RUN AWAY from being the Avatar was essential to him FINALLY getting that 'vision' or goal to become the avatar."

Feeling equally as frustrated, one person wrote: "This isn’t Avatar the Last Airbender. They’ve entirely missed the point. And I have no clue how. This might be the most talked about series of the century on YT. There are literally thousands of video essays, blogs etc talking about and dissecting this story down to its finest details. Yet despite this, literal professional writers, missed the single most fundamental aspect of Aang’s character journey?

"By design he isn’t responsible! He’s supposed to be a kid overwhelmed by his duty that ran away. His story is literally overcoming this flaw. It’s why he froze himself in the ice to begin the story!!!! People under 10 understand this aspect of the story. Without it, it’s simply not Avatar the Last Airbender. Colour me perplexed."

AVATAR: LE DERNIER MAITRE DE L'AIR AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER 2024 serie TV creee par Albert Kim saison 1 Gordon Cormier. d'apres les personnages cree
Avatar: The Last Airbender's original creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko were originally part of the process for the remake but left due to creative differences. (Netflix)

Avatar: The Last Airbender's original creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko parted ways with Netflix in 2020, with DiMartino citing a "negative and unsupporting" environment in an open letter about their departure. The co-creator added that Netflix's vision of the show differed from theirs, which ultimately led them to decide to leave the project.

After learning of some of the changes made in the Netflix series, several fans of the original commented on how they felt they now understood why DiMartino and Konietzko left the project.

Avatar: The Last Airbender premieres on Netflix on Friday, 22 February, and the animated series and its sequel The Legend of Korra is also available to watch on the streamer.

Watch the trailer for Avatar: The Last Airbender