At a time when original ideas are shockingly rare even by Hollywood’s low standards, its disappointing that one of the very brightest stars of original ideas is being pulled into the black hole of revenue targets. It follows a bad precedent and continues the trend of endlessly rebooting and rehashing old stuff.
Why is Avatar A Golden Goose?
The original Star Wars trilogy holds a special place for those who saw it when it came out, but for those born long after that time, they are simply the films that came first. Avatar may suffer a similar fate. The original series is exceptionally special but with more and more coming after it, it’ll start to feel a little diminutive; a mere piece of a larger jigsaw puzzle. It will start to be viewed through the lens of the newer content too.
There will be no nostalgia; the specialness of the characters, their tale, and the universe they inhabit will fade away as all three traits acquire different meanings, interpretations, and portrayals. Korra demonstrated the presence of the effect as the adult versions of the original series’ characters show them in a different light but whose portrayals can and are retconned to the original series for better or worse.
Consumers however, are fickle and cost-conscious; only willing to pay for a service if it has a decent library to choose from. Disney+ didn’t have the largest library at launch, but the company got the ball rolling with The Mandalorian and demonstrated that exploiting existing franchises was a low-risk/high-reward way of attracting consumers to your fledgling service. Viacom aims to mimic the formula and its success with both Spongebob Squarepants (RIP Steven Hillenberg AND his principles) and Avatar.
The original Avatar series is a kind of golden goose for Nickelodeon. Popular when broadcast and released on DVD, the series never really faded away and retained a core following while attracting late comers (including yours truly) and those who weren’t even born when the series was on the air.
A lot of fans are happy there’s more Star Wars content, but there’s a price to pay, and that is what made the original films special to begin with. They are rare, self-contained, and make for endless rewatching and interpretation. Is that still the case though?
Following Disney’s Lead
Creator-driven stories and characters have long been the hallmarks of Nickelodeon, and Avatar Studios is a way to give Mike and Bryan the resources and runway to open up their imaginations even more and dive deeper into the action and mythology of Avatar as we simultaneously expand upon that world and the world of content available on Paramount+ and Nickelodeon.
Avatar: The Last Airbender is the quintessentially perfect animated TV series. Its three seasons (or books) set the gold standard with meaty stories and lovable, complex characters. Recent news that Nickelodeon are establishing a special studio to expand the Avatar ‘universe’ is akin to killing the goose in search of perceived gold within.
Six years after Korra ended, the original series arrived on Netflix; becoming the service’s top streamed animated show for 2020 beating out every other animated show in Netflix’s vast library in the process. Jolted into action by this news, Nickelodeon announced that there will not just a new series, but an entire studio dedicated to cranking out Avatar-related content; the first of which will be an animated film but with more films and TV series to come:
When Gold Ceases to be Special
The classic fable of the golden goose is an allegory for the destructive power of greed. As the man and his wife, not being satisfied with receiving golden eggs, decide to kill said goose and harvest the large amount of gold they believe lies within. After killing the bird, they discover that there is no gold and its innards are the same as every other; leaving the man and his wife destitute as the source of their livelihood is gone.
If you’re reading carefully, you’ll find the reason for this announcement at the end of that quote. Netflix stole a march on all of Hollywood, and they’re straggling to catch up. OTT services are all the rage and companies from Disney to CBS are gambling that the public will pay a monthly fee to access their libraries of content.
The franchise also never completely ended. Follow-up graphic novels filled in details missing from the series and provided fans with further adventures of their favourite characters. The Legend of Korra was the first trip back to the Avatar world in animated form and lasted for five seasons. It was never as popular as the original series but it certainly didn’t help that Nicklodeon lost interest in the series to the point where there was a genuine chance the last episodes would never see the light of day. Much like the original series however, Korra lives on and remains popular among fans and newcomers.
Lamenting the Death of the Avatar Legacy
The show’s legacy as a groundbreaking original series waves goodbye.
What do you think though? Does this opinion make me a cranky old curmudgeon, or do I have a valid point?
Which is very much like killing the goose in search of the gold on the inside isn’t it? Not content to take the regular delivery of a small golden egg, Nickelodeon feels there’s more gold to be had by dispensing with the eggs and going for the whose goose. In contrast to the fowl in the fairytale though, Nickelodeon will likely find an awful lot of gold inside of Avatar in an almost identical manner to what Disney found within the Star Wars universe.