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Avatar: The Last Airbender

The cult-hit Nickelodeon cartoon becomes a live-action fantasy epic, about a young chosen one fighting to save the world by harnessing the feuding nations of Water, Earth, Fire and Air

A wise man named Uncle Iroh once said, “Failure is only the opportunity to try again, only more wisely this time.” While this insightful nugget means a lot to fans of the Nickelodeon animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender because of its origins in the show, it resonates especially loudly with those who saw and disliked director M. Night Shyamalan’s 2010 big-screen adaptation (and there were many).

Regardless of which side of the fence you land on, there is no denying that fans have been itching for a respectable live-action Avatar adaptation since the release of the original animated series in 2005. That’s happening as of this Thursday. So, to quote Prince Zuko, another beloved character from within the annals of Avatar: “Move over, filth!”

Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix. Pictured: Ian Ousley as wildcard waterbender Sokka, who becomes an unlikely companion of the titular world saviour.

Created in its new format by Nikita and Sleepy Hollow writer Albert Kim, Avatar: The Last Airbender is an eight-episode retelling of the American cartoon that redefined a genre.

While shifting from animation to live-action, several series details were bound to change, chief among them being the cast. While none of the characters save for one are portrayed by their original voice stars in Kim’s rendition, series photography and trailer footage show that the cast still very accurately represents the franchise’s overall aesthetic.

Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix. Pictured: Ken Leung as firebending villain Zhao, who’s out to conquer the other elemental nations and capture the newly awakened Avatar.

Starring in the titular role of Avatar is young Vancouverite Gordon Cormier, who, despite his youth at just 14, is already known for his work in several well-known TV shows, such as The Stand, Two Sentence Horror Stories and Lost in Space. Our hero’s trusty companions, siblings Sokka and Katara, are played by Ian Ousley and Kiawentiio, respectively. Ousley is known for his recurring roles in both Physical on Apple TV+ and the controversial Netflix drama 13 Reasons Why‚ while Cormier’s fellow Canadian, Kiawentiio, of the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation, has become a household name due to her heartfelt roles in Anne With an E‚ and the Indigenous-Canadian political drama Beans, in which she shone in the title role.

Filling out the main cast are Paul Sun-Hyung Lee (Kim’s Convenience) as Uncle Iroh, Daniel Dae Kim (Lost) as Fire Lord Ozai, Ken Leung (Industry) as Commander Zhao, Dallas Liu (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) as Prince Zuko and Tamlyn Tomita (The Day After Tomorrow) as Yukari.

Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix. Pictured: Paul Sun-Hyung Lee as Iroh

With regard to the series’ main storyline, per a Netflix synopsis, the plot remains the same: “Water. Earth. Fire. Air. The four nations once lived in harmony, with the Avatar, master of all four elements, keeping peace between them. But everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked and wiped out the Air Nomads, the first step taken by the firebenders toward conquering the world. With the current incarnation of the Avatar yet to emerge, the world has lost hope.

“But like a light in the darkness, hope springs forth when Aang [Cormier], a young Air Nomad, and the last of his kind, reawakens to take his rightful place as the next Avatar. Alongside his newfound friends Sokka [Ousley] and Katara [Kiawentiio], siblings and members of the Southern Water Tribe, Aang embarks on a fantastical, action-packed quest to save the world and fight back against the fearsome onslaught of Fire Lord Ozai [Dae Kim]. But with driven Crown Prince Zuko [Liu] determined to capture them, it won’t be an easy task.”

Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix. Pictured: Kiawentiio as waterbender Katara — Sokka’s sister, and a key friend and mentor to young Aang.

Similarly to Aang and the gang’s adventures, the creation of this series was hardly “an easy task.” Both Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, makers of the original Nickelodeon cartoon, were attached to the live-action Avatar but left relatively early on in the process due to creative differences. As reported by Variety, DiMartino referred to their resignation as “the hardest professional decision I’ve ever had to make” and added that “whatever version ends up onscreen, it will not be what Bryan and I had envisioned or intended to make.”

That said, all remaining writers are longtime fans of the original, and plan to do it justice. Meanwhile, Konietzko and DiMartino have used this experience to form Avatar Studios at Paramount and are currently in the process of animating a full-length Avatar film for fans to enjoy.

Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix. Pictured: Paul Sun-Hyung Lee as firebender Uncle Iroh, and Dallas Liu as his nephew, Fire Nation royal Prince Zuko.

Devotees of the cartoon will also be delighted to learn that there will be plenty of cabbages involved in this live-action take. In fact, the role of the cabbage merchant will be played by none other than the “My cabbages!” originator himself, voice actor James Sie. Known for his work in everything from The Simpsons to video game Diablo IV, it will be a welcome change for audiences to finally see the face behind the iconic bellow.

The Series Premiere of Avatar: The Last Airbender begins streaming Thursday, February 22 on Netflix

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