Definitely Not A Kids Show Anymore | Netflix's Avatar: The Last Airbender Review

The day has come: Netflix have released their live-action version of the beloved cartoon series Avatar: The Last Airbender. And let me tell you, it's definitely not a kids show anymore. Here's our review of Netflix's Avatar.

Netflix Atla Gaang
Avatar: The Last Airbender Review – Not Kids A Show Anymore. | © Netflix

Netflix favorite shtick seems to be adapting beloved video games, animes and books – just take The Witcher, One Piece or Bridgerton. Now, it was Avatar's turn to have a live-action adaptation. As one of the most beloved cartoons of all time and maybe the best example when it comes to great worldbuilding and character development, the anticipation was high for Netflix's go at the story.

Avatar: The Last Airbender follows the journey of Aang and his friends on their mission to stop the 100-year war started by the Fire Nation. As the Avatar, Aang is able to bend all four elements – fire, water, earth and air – and is destined to bring peace and balance to the world.

The original cartoon has three seasons and on February 22, 2024, Netflix released the live-action adaptation of the first one. With eight episodes in total and a runtime of roughly seven hours, the season covers Book One: Water.

This review will be spoiler free. Why? Because Netflix's Avatar is definitely worth watching, and I don't want to spoil your fun. Don't expect a perfect retelling of the original, though.

Netflix Keeps Avatar's Plot Intact But Amps Up The Brutality

Before release, fans were worried Netflix would butcher what made the cartoon special. And if your favorite part of the original was the lightheartedness and goofiness, you'll be in for a wild ride with the live-action version.

Netflix Atla Ozai
Meet the father of the year | © Netflix

The mission for Team Avatar is clear: Aang needs to master all four elements, and the North Pole is their destination to properly get started on the water part. Getting there while dodging the Fire Nation and other dangerous situations proves to be difficult, but also makes an exciting story to tell – just like the original.

The plot doesn't stray too far from the source material, and the story is still coherent. Still, Netflix's adaptation adds new scenes and plot threads, forcing the show to cut some corners here and there, combine storylines that have previously been episodes of their own and leaving others out entirely.

The Netflix adaptions also pulls a few scenes from later seasons, and even changes the perspective of certain storylines. The overall plot doesn't suffer from these creative choices, but diehard fans who wanted nothing to be changed at all will probably have a hard time with parts of this adaptation.

Condensing the more silly expeditions of Team Avatar makes room for the more serious parts of the show – the war, especially. The lightheartedness of the original takes a step back to show the horrors the Fire Nation has put upon the world, and nearly every character we meet has a story to tell about someone or something they've lost. Speaking of the characters...

Phenomenal Casting And Some Character Changes

The more promo the show did, the more nervous fans got – Sokka's character development being one of the bigger worries. And yes, there are plenty of changes from the cartoon to the adaptation, but they do work out.

Netflix Atla Appa
Flying cows are the best cows | © Netflix

The characters still feel fleshed out, even if it may be in a slightly different way. Some of them even get some more depth to them, which I honestly didn't anticipate, but was pleasantly surprised by.

The show obviously aims for a more mature audience and that reflects the changes that have been made: while the foundation stays the same, our heroes each have their own demons to fight and some of them are much darker than in the original. There are some pretty hard gut-punches in there.

The actors do a great job portraying not only the dark aspects of the characters, though. Gordon Cormier as Aang embodies the Avatar with all his insecurities and big smiles, Ian Ousley makes for a great Sokka and Kiawentiio's Katara performance strikes true.

Ken Leung and Daniel Dae Kim as Commander Zhao and Fire Lord Ozai respectively give the villains the right amount of cunning and make them hateable in the best way. The highlight, though, may be Dallas Liu and Paul Sun-Hyung Lee: Prince Zuko and Uncle Iroh.

The duo steals the show at times, in parts because the actors do a great job at their portrayals and, surprisingly, because the Netflix show treats them to some never-before-seen, heart-wrenching scenes that drive home their respective hardships.

Netflix Had The Budget For Avatar, And They Used It Well

Those scenes prove that lots of thought went into the adaptation to make it a new and yet familiar experience. The showrunner Albert Kim and the directors (Michael Goi, Jabbar Raisani, Roseanne Liang and Jet Wilkinson) did a solid job at adapting the original with their own twists and turns. Especially Goi and Wilkinson makes for a great kickoff and finale, respectively.

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Netflix's Avatar gets pretty dark at times | © Netflix

The CGI locations are beautiful, with breathtaking shots of the Southern Air Temple or a lively Omashu, for example. The choreographs are well done, with fast-paced combat sequences and bending that finally feels right (looking at you, M. Night Shyamalan).

There are lots of iconic shots from the original that made their way into a lovingly adapted live-action version, proving they did have the diehard fans in mind. The costume design is solid, but gives "really good cosplay" vibes at times instead of "war torn world" like expected.

Fans will also be delighted by the music: familiar soundtracks capture the feeling of the original and even go a step further. Without spoiling anything: there's an orchestral version of Leaves From The Vine, and it made me want to tear-bend.

Verdict: Go Watch It, But Expect A Few Flaws

While there definitely are some flaws in the adaptation, taking the show for what it is without the rose-tinted glasses of the original cartoon, the show is pretty solid and paints a grim and dark picture of a world at war, with some glimpses of goofiness – we're following mostly kids, after all. Traumatized kids, but kids nonetheless.

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Blue Spirit, my beloved | © Netflix

While some punchlines fall flat in the face of the dark turns the show takes, it did manage to make me exhale through my nose slightly louder than usual in amusement. It also made me cry. And it made me scream "What!?" in disbelief.

And, most importantly, it made me anticipate a second season. At the end of the day, there is room to improve, but there's also a lot Netflix did right with their version of Avatar: The Last Airbender.


Tanja Haimerl

Tanja is obsessed with gripping stories in all kinds of media: games, TV shows and books alike. She did her Bachelor's thesis on The Last of Us, got her degree in media studies thanks to that and can't stop talking about it....