A new animated Avatar: The Last Airbender movie is on the way from the original series’ creators, casting a long shadow over the live-action remake in development at Netflix. The announcement of Avatar Studios at Nickelodeon, which will be headed up by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, has promised an expansive future for the franchise of new animated films, shorts, and original series. All those projects are separate from the Netflix series, however, which may be losing even more fan support.
When Netflix first announced their live-action remake of Avatar: The Last Airbender, there was generally a lot of excitement. Konietzko and DiMartino were set to return as showrunners, which helped give the new show a level of validity among fans. That changed, however, when the creators departed the project late last year, citing creative differences with Netflix and a lack of artistic control. In the wake of that schism, and likely also due to Avatar’s explosion in popularity last summer after streaming on Netflix, it seems that Konietzko and DiMartino found their way back to Nickelodeon and ViacomCBS, where they have been given an entire studio to produce brand-new animated content set in the Avatar universe
The news, announced as part of ViacomCBS’s lead-up to the launch of its Paramount+ streaming platform, has been widely celebrated by fans of the Avatar franchise. Avatar Studios will begin with an original animated theatrical film, set to start production later in 2021. After that, it sounds like the plan is to expand into a range of new content within the beloved world of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. While this is all good news for many, it’s a grim development for Netflix, as their own adaptation is now facing some stiff competition.
The departure of Konietzko and DiMartino already cast doubt on the Netflix project, but there was still a high level of anticipation. No other major Avatar projects were in development, so Netflix held a monopoly on franchise interest, despite the new aspersions being cast on their remake. However, the announcement of Avatar Studios and the new animated movie have hurt Netflix’s own Avatar show in two key ways. First, it provides alternative Avatar content for fans to look forward to. Those still excited about the live-action series may be less interested now that there are proper new animated stories coming.
Second, Avatar Studios effectively pushes the Netflix show into non-canon territory automatically. It doesn’t seem likely that any new material would spawn from Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender, as ViacomCBS is now once again actively developing the franchise. That makes the live-action series more of a curiosity than an exciting new Avatar installment. Many fans objected to the remake from the start on the grounds that the original cartoon shouldn’t be changed retroactively, and anyone holding that opinion will likely jump at the chance to ignore the Netflix show altogether.
Does that mean Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender series is dead in the water? Not necessarily. The streamer still holds the rights to adapt the original cartoon, and it’s likely still worth the money for them to produce something under new creative leadership. If it releases before the new animated movie in particular, it could still be successful. The broader problem is that any larger plans Netflix may have had to develop the franchise have vanished now. Regardless of how good it may be, the live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender series seems doomed to occupy the same territory as the M. Night Shyamalan film – a brief, noncanonical mark on the franchise, which may soon be willfully forgotten.