Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Students say faith to source material can make or break 'ATLA', live-action adaptions

March 20, 2024
Images from Tomorrow Studios and Tudum by Netflix media kits
Images from Tomorrow Studios and Tudum by Netflix media kits —

In the latest string of live-action remakes, from the Disney princess movies to Dreamworks' "How to Train Your Dragon," the adaptation of the hit animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” or ATLA, aired on Netflix on Feb. 22, 2024 and received various negative reactions from fans, revitalizing the long-held social media debate over live-action content.

This TV series is the second attempted adaptation, following the 2010 film “The Last Airbender,” which garnered a whopping score of 5% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. The newest attempt fared better, with a rating of 60%. 

Astrophysics junior Jazzmin Partridge, a long-time fan of the original “ATLA” series, was intrigued when the new adaptation was announced, only to be let down by the final product

“When I heard the adaptation was coming out it was a bit promising,” Partridge said. “Actually, seeing it was honestly one of the biggest disappointments, only because they removed the most important aspects of every character, which actually made the story interesting and made the character growth worth watching.” 

Along with the limited character interaction, the tone of the new series shifted from mostly funny and lighthearted to dark and gritty. Psychology sophomore Joshua Nunley cites this massive tone shift as another downfall of the adaptation

“Even though there are heavy tones in the original show, it still manages to be happy,” Nunley said. “I think that might be because of the medium, that might just be because it's animated. It has the liberty to be goofy and funny at times where a live action show doesn't get to be.” 

Contrastingly, the 2023 live action adaptation of the famous anime series “One Piece” came out on Netflix to positive reviews. It has a score of 85% from critics and 95% from fans on Rotten Tomatoes. Unlike “ATLA,” critics said that “One Piece” managed to stay true to its source material by capturing it's fun and adventurous tone, brought to life by a talented cast and quality production

The anime “One Piece” is now over a thousand episodes long. With just 8 episodes that run between 49-63 minutes each, the live action adaptation captures the spirit of the original while being more digestible

“You should be able to answer why it ought to be live action,” Nunley said. “I think there's definitely a pattern recently of media being moved to live action that might not need to be.” 

Both “ATLA” and “One Piece” are prominent examples of the new trend in the film and television industry of making live action content out of previously animated media. This is often seen as “elevating” the story to a “superior” medium, which fans and animators view as demeaning to the field.

“I feel like we're not really giving the attention and love to animation that we should,” Partridge said. “Animation is a medium for telling stories. It's not a genre.”

Partridge expressed frustration with animation being stereotyped as a medium for children, when in reality, many animations with adult themes or genres not suitable for children exist. Animation is a way that all kinds of fantastical, gory or romantic stories can be told, she said

For marine biology freshman Naomi Maxwell-Abrams, the animated format of the original “ATLA” allowed for more meaningful character interactions, better plot pacing and a feeling of nostalgic escapism.

“Because it's visual, you can cater to your audience's visual needs,” Maxwell-Abrams said. “I think ‘Avatar’ does that very well, especially with the soft, artistic style … The animation is gorgeous.”

Though the live action couldn’t quite capture this, it garnered plenty of viewership and remains in the Netflix Top 10 almost a month after its release. The show has already been renewed for two more seasons. However, most fans are in agreement that it will never come close to the beauty and charm of the original

“In my opinion … if something is so masterfully done in animation, it's never going to be remotely as good in live action,” Partridge said. “It just can't work.”

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