Avatar is nothing without Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko
Netflix's live-action adaptation of The Last Airbender just lost its original creators. Should the show even happen without them?
The summer of 2020 may have been the best time to be a fan of Avatar since the Korra finale aired in 2014. But the summer of Avatar: The Last Airbender came to a crashing halt on August 12 with a pair of announcements from series co-creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. The duo behind both Avatar animated shows had parted ways with Netflix and its live-action series based on The Last Airbender, which was initially announced in 2018 with DiMartino and Konietzko on board as executive producers with creative control.
At the time, this was great news for fans who were still shell-shocked from the universally despised Last Airbender movie, which was directed by M. Night Shyamalan with no input from DiMartino and Konietzko. Now that the co-creators are moving on, is there any reason for Netflix to make this show without them?
The answer is a resounding no.
DiMartino broke the news in a letter to fans on his website, revealing that he and Konietzko had left the Netflix adaptation back in June (it's unclear why they waited two months to break the news). In the letter, he calls this a "difficult decision" and hints that Netflix didn't stick to its promise of letting Avatar's co-creators tell the story on their own terms:
In a joint announcement for the series, Netflix said that it was committed to honoring our vision for this retelling and to supporting us on creating the series. And we expressed how excited we were for the opportunity to be at the helm. Unfortunately, things did not go as we had hoped.
Look, things happen. Productions are challenging. Unforeseen events arise. Plans have to change. And when those things have happened at other points during my career, I try to be like an Air Nomad and adapt.
In a slightly more blunt Instagram post, Konietzko revealed that there was "no follow-through" on Netflix's initial promise to give him and DiMartino creative control, describing the production as a "negative and unsupporting environment." He goes on to say that he's hopeful the show will still be good, noting that some of the people he and DiMartino hired are still involved.
But let's be honest: DiMartino and Konietzko are just being polite. Even if these statements throw some shade at Netflix and the way it does business, Avatar's co-creators have been careful not to undermine the live-action show itself.
This isn't out of character. The duo even bit their tongues and said nice things about Shyamalan's movie for years. They didn't reveal their true feelings until Netflix's live-action series was announced. At the time, it felt like DiMartino and Konietzko were apologizing for a movie they had nothing to do with while promising to do better. In hindsight, it feels like Netflix was using them as cover for what many fans would have otherwise considered a controversial decision.
Of course, DiMartino and Konietzko didn't create Avatar on their own. The series was the product of an Avengers-level team effort that included Dave Filoni (The Mandalorian), Aaron Ehasz (The Dragon Prince), Giancarlo Volpe, and countless others. However, after most of that team left when DiMartino and Konietzko went on to create the sequel series The Legend of Korra, you could still feel the same magic quality, even if it sometimes lacked the polish of the original show.
Could Filoni, Ehasz, Volpe, and the rest of that team have created The Last Airbender without DiMartino and Konietzko? We'll likely never know the answer, but if I had to bet on it I'd say no. And while Netflix might think it can create this live-action remake with a new team that was assembled by DiMartino and Konietzko but no longer includes them, the franchise's long and uneven history should make it clear that this would be as big a mistake as giving creative control back to Shyamalan himself.
Update: A Netflix spokesperson sent Inverse the following statement:
"We have complete respect and admiration for Michael and Bryan and the story that they created in the Avatar animated series. Although they have chosen to depart the live action project, we are confident in the creative team and their adaptation."