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Avatar: The Last Airbender voice cast discusses Netflix's live-action series during virtual reunion
Yip-Yip! The voice cast of Avatar: The Last Airbender virtually reunited Saturday evening to discuss the beloved Nickelodeon series and its pop culture legacy more than a decade after the program left the air. Also present was the show's voice director, Andrea Romano, who explained why the project was so groundbreaking for the world of animation. According to her, the project really helped the "anime style" become appreciated as a "respected ... art-form" for kids' programming.
"They turned a corner in a big way," she said, going on to reference the fact that while classic anime (like Gigantor and Kimba the White Lion) had beautiful animation, their "voice-work was God-awful." She continued: "[Creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko] knew from the get-go ... what was going to happen 60 episodes later. They had it mapped out in stories, three books of 20 episodes each and had it figured out what each of you [the actors] would be doing. That's pretty remarkable."
Discussion eventually turned to the much-maligned live-action Avatar film directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Turns out, the OG crew isn't very fond of the movie either.
"It was very disappointing," Romano said. "It's not good, I'm sorry. The first thing is: we were so good with what we set up. That's it. Because it was animation and because we were setting the bar...I believe, too, and I don't know, [but] I believe there was an ego involved about, 'This is mine and I'm doing it this way. I don't care that you two guys created this incredibly successful series and have all this information you could give me. I'm pretty much not gonna listen to you and do what I wanna do.' Which is fine, that's his prerogative, but that's why [it didn't work]."
"They also didn't really write a feature script," added Jack DeSena, voice of Sokka. "They just condensed a whole season of television in a way that made it all feel really [rushed]."
Netflix is currently trying its hand at a live-action version reboot, which lost the involvement of DiMartino Bryan Konietzko this past summer.
"I just don't know how you fulfill that any better than this show did," said Dee Bradley Baker, the voice of Appa and Momo. "I'm open to whatever they do with the live-action series, which I know nothing about, but it's like, 'Well, how do you do this better than the way that it was rendered on this show?' I don't know how you do that! I hope you can." Baker also described Airbender as "the high watermark, in all aspects, of storytelling and voice acting." He even admitted that he'll "never be in a better show."
"Especially when you're doing the exact same series, but as a live-action," added Olivia Hack, the voice of Ty Lee. "You're not adding onto it or expanding the universe. You're doing the same thing, which feels redundant, but I don't know. I'm not saying anything."
All three seasons of Avatar; Shyamalan's film adaptation; and all four seasons of the sequel series, The Legend of Korra, are currently available to stream on Netflix.
"The great thing for me is being able to call up a lot of my co-stars from the show and hang out with them online, talk about the show and watch it with the fans," Dante Basco, voice of the Fire Nation's Prince Zuko told SYFY WIRE last June when asked about his Avatar rewatch. "It's great to get everyone's idea of what they remember from the show and how it fits today. It's ironic that it comes out now during these crazy times we're living in and is poignant for a lot of things happening right now."
Mark Hamill ("Fire Lord Ozai") wasn't able to make an appearance at the reunion, but sent his love via moderator, Sydney Shulz. In addition, Mae Whitman ("Katara") filmed the following heartfelt message ahead of a time:
"I was only 11 or 12 when we started and ... we all just kind of became a family immediately. We just fell more and more in love with each other as more cast members got added and more people joined the show," the actress said. "I think a big part of it was that we knew we were working on something that was really meaningful to us. We really believed in it and any time there is real love involved, I think it makes a project a million times better ... For me, being so young, it was one of my first introductions into spirituality and mediation and it was just so empathetic ... I learned so much recording every episode, from the people involved, and from [the fans]. I feel like all the Avatar fans that I've met have been so considerate and empathetic and kind and compassionate and positive. They believe in the right thing and they want to fight for it. I just really appreciate you guys and I think if there's anything I would take away from Avatar is the concept of loving yourself, loving the people around you, and healing your bubble the best you can through love and then slowly watching that expand outwards and grow and grow and grow until that whole bubble of love can take over the world. I really am so thankful that I got to be a part of this show and I appreciate you guys for still tuning in."
For SYFY WIRE's oral history of the show, click here.