Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender, announced this week that they are leaving Netflix’s live-action reboot of the animated series. This comes a decade after the first attempt to turn the animated classic into a live-action motion picture, a critical flop by filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan.
Announcing Their Departure
Creators DiMartino and Konietzko made their announcement via DiMartino’s personal website. The lengthy post started:
“Many of you have been asking me for updates about the ‘Avatar’ live-action Netflix series. I can finally tell you that I am no longer involved with the project. In June of this year, after two years of development work, Bryan Konietzko and I made the difficult decision to leave the production.”
Although the announcement was cordial, there was also a tone of disappointment and frustration. The open letter outlines how the two came to team up with Netflix on this live-action series. It describes a deal where Netflix assured it would honor the writers’ creative vision and would gave each of them the distinction of Executive Producer and Showrunner. But things soured, DiMartino writes, “things did not go as we had hoped.”
The letter hints at other clashes between Netflix and the creators of the franchise. DiMartino gingerly writes:
“And who knows? Netflix’s live-action adaptation of Avatar has the potential to be good. It might turn out to be a show many of you end up enjoying. 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.”
DiMartino compared himself to an Air Nomad, an itinerant character type from the Avatar universe. “Even an Air Nomad knows when it’s time to cut their losses and move on,” he wrote.
A Fumbled Second Chance
It’s bad enough that the creators and showrunners of Avatar are walking off set. But this is not the first attempt at a live-action reinterpretation of Avatar. And the first effort was a disaster.
That would be The Last Airbender, a cinematically-released feature directed by M. Night Shyamalan and produced by Paramount. The 2010 film loosely followed the story of the animated series, but captured none of its charm. To this day, The Last Airbender holds a 5% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
At the time of its release, critic Roger Ebert wrote:
“‘The Last Airbender’ is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented. The laws of chance suggest that something should have gone right. Not here.”
One of the movie’s clearest issues was its mis-casting. The original anime exists in a parallel universe inspired by Asian cultures. All characters in the series are of Asian or Inuit descent. But the motion picture cast several white actors in the leading roles, which diluted the franchise’s cultural integrity.
“We have complete respect and admiration for Michael and Bryan and the story that they created in the Avatar animated series,” a Netflix representative said in a statement. “Although they have chosen to depart the live action project, we are confident in the creative team and their adaptation.”
The project is moving on with The Lego Movie director Dan Lin at the helm.
Still, even if DiMartino and Konietzko’s departure isn’t damning, it’s not a promising development. With one failed attempt at a live-action Avatar already in the bag, maybe the last thing Netflix should be doing is pushing away the franchise creators.