by Dave Argento ’21 A&E Staff
After 16 years since the premiere of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and six years since the finale of The Legend of Korra, Nickelodeon’s February 2021 announcement of Avatar Studios has reinvigorated excitement surrounding what content the highly popular animated world will yield. Although The Last Airbender was tremendously popular and The Legend of Korra saw rather strong ratings as well when these series were originally released, fans of the fantasy franchises had lost hope in ever seeing more of the magic that original creators Micheal DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko produced. With Nickelodeon’s support for Avatar Studios, the two will now have the greatest financial backing and creative freedom that they have had yet to dive deeper into the lore-rich world of Avatar.
Many Netflix subscribers are likely to remember the booming Avatar fandom that formed in the spring of 2020 when Avatar: The Last Airbender became the most watched title on the platform as of May 22, 2020. Between the original fans that grew up with protagonists Aang and Korra and the new binge-watchers engaging across social media, the hype surrounding the two shows set the stage for this announcement.
DiMartino and Konietzko have had a long and rather difficult history with licensing agreements and creative restrictions failing to do the franchise justice. Henry St Leger of TechRadar writes, “There was an ill-fated, whitewashed and universally-panned live-action movie of The Last Airbender, directed by M. Night Shyamalan—originally intended to be a trilogy of films, but scrapped due to the poor reviews and low profits of the first film.” This comically bad film left a sour taste in the mouths of dedicated fans, casting doubt on whether or not a quality remake would ever come. Lacking the original Avatar creators, the film was almost doomed from the beginning.
In 2018, Netflix announced its own plans to make a live-action TV series based on The Last Airbender, but internal difficulties regarding creative differences caused DiMartino and Konietzko to depart from the project. The status of the Netflix series remains unclear following the implied conflict behind the scenes, as there has yet to be an official release date two years after the initial announcement of the project. The two original animated series are still on Netflix, but the longevity of the ties between Nickelodeon’s licensing of the titles and the Netflix platform is not likely to persist in the long-term.
Nickelodeon’s announcement of Avatar Studios coming shortly after DiMartino and Konietzko’s departure from Netflix may imply that any new Avatar content would be released on Paramount Plus, the new streaming platform of Nickelodeon’s parent company, Paramount. Julia Alexander of The Verge writes, “The new streaming service will have more than 30,000 TV episodes and films from across its various brands, including BET, CBS, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, and Paramount Pictures, alongside some aspect of live sports and news.”
This new support and new platform provide DiMartino and Konietzko with the best tools for success they have seen since The Legend of Korra years ago. Although the specifics surrounding the future of the Avatar world still remain rather unclear, fans that have patiently waited for new content from the original creators will have releases to look forward to in the relatively near future.