Thursday, January 14, 2021

'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Voice Cast Discuss Netflix's Live-Action Adaptation During Virtual Reunion

Yip-Yip! The voice cast of Avatar: The Last Airbender virtually reunited Saturday evening (Jan 9.) to discuss the beloved Nickelodeon animated series and its pop culture legacy more than a decade after the program left the air. Also present was the show's voice director, Andrea Romano, who explained why the project was so groundbreaking for the world of animation. According to her, the project really helped the "anime style" become appreciated as a "respected ... art-form" for kids' programming.


"They turned a corner in a big way," she said, going on to reference the fact that while classic anime (like Gigantor and Kimba the White Lion) had beautiful animation, their "voice-work was God-awful." She continued: "[Creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko] knew from the get-go ... what was going to happen 60 episodes later. They had it mapped out in stories, three books of 20 episodes each and had it figured out what each of you [the actors] would be doing. That's pretty remarkable."

Discussion eventually turned to the much-maligned live-action Avatar film directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Turns out, the OG crew isn't very fond of the movie either.

"It was very disappointing," Romano said. "It's not good, I'm sorry. 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, too, and I don't know, [but] 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 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]."

"They also didn't really write a feature script," added Jack DeSena, voice of Sokka. "They just condensed a whole season of television in a way that made it all feel really [rushed]."

Netflix is currently trying its hand at a live-action version reboot, which lost the involvement of DiMartino and Konietzko this past summer. 

"I just don't know how you fulfill that any better than this show did," said Dee Bradley Baker, the voice of Appa and Momo. "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." Baker also described Airbender as "the high watermark, in all aspects, of storytelling and voice acting." He even admitted that he'll "never be in a better show."

"Especially when you're doing the exact same series, but as a live-action," added Olivia Hack, the voice of Ty Lee. "You're not adding onto it or expanding the universe. You're doing the same thing, which feels redundant, but I don't know. I'm not saying anything."

All three seasons of Avatar; Shyamalan's film adaptation; and all four seasons of the sequel series, The Legend of Korra, are currently available to stream on Netflix. Both series are also available to stream on CBS All Access (Paramount+).


"The great thing for me is being able to call up a lot of my co-stars from the show and hang out with them online, talk about the show and watch it with the fans," Dante Basco, voice of the Fire Nation's Prince Zuko told SYFY WIRE last June when asked about his Avatar rewatch. "It's great to get everyone's idea of what they remember from the show and how it fits today. It's ironic that it comes out now during these crazy times we're living in and is poignant for a lot of things happening right now."

Mark Hamill ("Fire Lord Ozai") wasn't able to make an appearance at the reunion, but sent his love via moderator, Sydney Shulz. In addition, Mae Whitman ("Katara") filmed the following heartfelt message ahead of a time:

"I was only 11 or 12 when we started and ... we all just kind of became a family immediately. We just fell more and more in love with each other as more cast members got added and more people joined the show," the actress said. "I think a big part of it was that we knew we were working on something that was really meaningful to us. We really believed in it and any time there is real love involved, I think it makes a project a million times better ... For me, being so young, it was one of my first introductions into spirituality and mediation and it was just so empathetic ... I learned so much recording every episode, from the people involved, and from [the fans]. I feel like all the Avatar fans that I've met have been so considerate and empathetic and kind and compassionate and positive. They believe in the right thing and they want to fight for it. I just really appreciate you guys and I think if there's anything I would take away from Avatar is the concept of loving yourself, loving the people around you, and healing your bubble the best you can through love and then slowly watching that expand outwards and grow and grow and grow until that whole bubble of love can take over the world. I really am so thankful that I got to be a part of this show and I appreciate you guys for still tuning in."


Avatar: The Last Airbender cast worries Netflix remake will be “redundant”

Netflix is making a live-action version of Avatar: The Last Airbender, but the original cast wonders if it’s necessary when the original show is so good as is.
All three seasons of Avatar: The Last Airbender arrived on Netflix in May 2020 and I promptly watched the entire series for the very first time, and I was blown away. Avatar: The Last Airbender is by far one of the most poignant and well-executed children’s shows I’ve ever seen.

The show began in 2005, but we have yet to have a live-action adaptation that fans that anybody liked. M. Night Shyamalan did adapt the first season as a movie in 2010, but it’s widely considered to be terrible. Then, in 2018, Netflix announced that it was produce a live-action TV series based on the show, and even got animated series creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko on board as showrunners. But the series hit a rough patch when that duo ended their involvement with the production last summer.

Over the weekend, the original voice cast of Avatar: The Last Airbender had a virtual reunion, and the conversation turned to Netflix’s show. As it turns out, the cast aren’t any more certain how they feel about it than the fans.

Dee Bradley Baker, who played Appa and Momo, wonders how Netflix will make the series unique if it’s just a remake of the original:

"I just don’t know how you fulfill that any better than this show did. 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."

Similarly, Olivia Hack, the voice of Ty Lee, wondered about the creative integrity of the remake:

"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. I’m not saying anything."

While I’m interested to see how the live-action series comes together, I agree that it seems rather redundant. It feels like Netflix is just trying to profit off of the recent surge in the show’s popularity. Each season of Avatar: The Last Airbender was well-written and drove the plot forward while exploring themes like justice, war, imperialism, destiny and oppression. In short, Avatar was so good that I’m not sure how making a live-action adaptation will improve it in any way.

In lieu of a shot-for-shot live-action remake of the show, I would much rather see a new series set in the Avatar universe. There were so many Avatars before Aang and Korra that I’d love to learn about, like Kuruk, whose beloved was stolen by Koh the Face Stealer, or Kyoshi, whose elaborate costume was a clever nod to her parents, as well as the inspiration for the Kyoshi Warriors.

On the other hand, it would be great to see who becomes Avatar after sequel series The Legend of Korra, especially after the spiritual connection between all of the Avatars was unintentionally severed. Even if another series didn’t focus on the Avatar, I’ve always wanted to learn more about the different styles of bending portrayed on the show! The series created a world that is so expansive that a new storyline could focus on any number of characters, events, or time periods. Whatever ends up happening with the final product, I will watch it all the same.

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From CBR.com:

Avatar: The Last Airbender Cast Believes Live-Action Remake Is 'Redundant'

The original cast for Avatar: The Last Airbender reassembled for a virtual reunion and shared their thoughts on Netflix’s upcoming live action remake.

A virtual reunion of the original voice cast for the Nickelodeon animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender turned its conversation to Netflix’s planned live action remake of the show and a couple of the cast members are unsure that it can live up to expectations.

The virtual reunion aired on Jan. 9 2021 and featured the original voice talent for the animated show as well as the show's voice director, Andrea Romano. Talent in attendance included Dante Basco (Zuko), Jack DeSena (Sokka), Dee Bradley Baker (Appa and Momo), Grey Griffin (Azula), Olivia Hack (Ty Lee), Jennie Kwan (Suki), Cricket Leigh (Mai) and Michaela Murphy (Toph). The discussion eventually shifted to Netflix's upcoming live action adaptation.

Baker said, "I just don't know how you fulfill that any better than this show did. 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." He went on to say that the original was "the high watermark, in all aspects, of storytelling and voice acting," and that he'll "never be in a better show." Hack agreed, adding, "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."

Netflix's attempt to remake the animated series is the second attempted live action remake following director and writer M. Night Shyamalan's 2010 film adaptation The Last Airbender. The film is considered by some critics to be one of the worst films of all time and has a critic score of 5 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

The original voice cast and crew got the chance to share their criticisms of the film during the virtual reunion, as well. Romano said the film was "very disappointing" and that "it didn’t work." "They also didn't really write a feature script," added DeSena, "They just condensed a whole season of television in a way that made it all feel really [rushed]." Basco was previously asked what his thoughts on the film were in a 2016 interview. He responded that series creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko had advised him not to watch it.

Creators DiMartino and Konietzko left their roles as executive producers and showrunners of Netflix's reimagining in August due to creative differences, a move that made fans skeptical of the remake's potential quality. "Netflix's live-action adaptation of Avatar has the potential to be good," DiMartino's announcement read. "But what I can be certain about is that whatever version ends up on-screen, it will not be what Bryan and I had envisioned or intended to make."

All three seasons of the original Avatar: The Last Airbender are currently available to stream on Netflix. The series became Netflix's most popular TV series upon its streaming debut in May 2020.

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Unlike the OG Avatar: The Last Airbender Cast, I Want a Netflix Adaptation

*Sips cactus juice.*

Personally, I’m excited for the live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and I’m ready to die on this hill. I haven’t always been this excited to see more Avatar: The Last Airbender. Let’s clarify that, first and foremost. Every network or studio under the sun has had trouble when it comes to adaptations. They don’t manage to capture the heart of the original work, make changes that get rid of diversity, and end up looking like they never even watched or read the original content.

The M. Night Shyamalan production of The Last Airbender did all those things. They got rid of all the diversity when it came to the heroes, making the people of color the bad guys. They missed the whole point of Avatar: The Last Airbender being about found family, patience, and kindness in the face of adversity, and they ended up with a movie that made it seem like Shyamalan never even watched the show.

Combine that history with the fact that the original creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko have departed from the Netflix adaptation, and it’s easy to not be excited. More fuel was poured on that fire this past weekend, when the OG cast of Avatar: The Last Airbender got together for a reunion special where they discussed the show in general and how it’s being adapted on Netflix.

Dee Bradley Baker, who voiced Momo and Appa, said, “I just don’t know how you fulfill that any better than this show did. I’m open to whatever they do with the live-action adaptation, 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, who voices Ty Lee, also expressed concerns about the actual relevancy of having such an adaptation in the first place when she 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. I’m not saying anything.”

There is plenty to expand on when it comes to Avatar: The Last Airbender, and a new adaptation doesn’t take away from that world just by existing. Either way, we’ll always have the original that’s so good the cast can’t imagine improving it. In fact, even following roughly the same story, there are opportunities to enrich it and add things the OG series didn’t have.

For one, the LGBTQ representation in Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra was majorly lacking. I understand that at that time it was hard to bring that representation to an animated series aimed at kids—and it still is—but I want more. And I think there’s room for the Netflix version to do that.

Worries about whitewashing characters in the Netflix adaptation, especially with what they did in the Shyamalan one, are valid. These characters are people of color. And just like with LGBTQ representation in this series, I want more when it comes to PoC representation. Give me dark skinned benders that aren’t the enemy, and put them into positions of power that blow people’s minds—because everyone and their mother deserves to be seen.

To wrap things up, we need to talk about the fanmade videos for Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra. They are what the live-action Shyamalan movie could’ve been like. And if a small team like this can make something so extraordinary, imagine what Netflix could do with it on a grander scale, especially with an awareness of the shortcomings of its predecessor. So, sorry OG Avatar: The Last Airbender cast. I’m excited for the Netflix adaptation, the changes to come, and the new viewers who will fall in love with this world and the characters in it.

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Watch Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra on CBS All Access and Netflix!

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More Nick: Nickelodeon to Release 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Cookbook in August 2021!

Originally published: Sunday, January 10, 2021.

Original source: SYFY WIRE; Additional source: UPROXX.

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