Few children’s TV shows stood the test of time the way the original Avatar: The Last Airbender did.

The show layered slapstick humor and bright animation over gripping yet quick-paced storylines that were riddled with adult themes. It was one of the first to do so, and it turned silly adolescents Aang, Katara, Zuko and Sokka into compelling, well-developed characters that are iconic to a whole generation of viewers.

I was too young for the original show when it aired from 2005 to 2008. But when I finally watched Avatar during the pandemic, I binged it at supersonic speed. Its fast-paced nature kept me hooked and I developed quick bonds to the silly, surprisingly-complex cast of characters.

Its live-action adaptation, which released Thursday on Netflix, is undeniably gorgeous. Visually, it lives up to even the highest of expectations. Fans of the original show will enjoy the watch because of that.

But the remake doesn’t work without nostalgia and context. It’s clear why the show’s original creators left the Netflix production in 2020 over creative differences. These differences hampered plot and character development — the two things that helped Avatar become a cult classic in the first place.

Avatar’s animated first season lasted 477 minutes across 20 episodes. The live-action remake condensed that action into 430 minutes across eight episodes. That means 47 minutes of content had to be cut, even before taking into account the extra transition shots required to combine episodes.

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A limitation to crafting a live action remake is that characters who are children should be played by, well, children. The casting of children in the roles of Aang and Katara, in particular, made it harder to connect with them. Those characters were deep and complex in the cartoon. When they’re played by real-life children, their complexity becomes limited.

Human settings and characters can’t move like cartoons — that’s bound to slow things down. Cutting run time could have worked if the remake compensated for that. Instead, many of the original show’s key scenes were cramped into a format that detracted from their significance, or were cut altogether.

One change that stands above the rest in both significance and stupidity was the decision to remove Aang’s waterbending journey. This was paramount to the cartoon’s first season, which is literally called Book One: Water. Eliminating this plot line was outright nonsensical, especially considering little else is changed in the Northern Water Tribe story arc.

It hampers plot flow and creates logistical concerns if the Netflix show is to last three seasons, as the animated series did. Aang still has to learn waterbending at some point. This means the second and third seasons can’t be dedicated to learning earthbending and firebending respectively, as they were in the original.

It would have been easy to, at minimum, throw in a half-assed Rocky-style training montage of Aang learning to waterbend. As it stands, the show’s progression is irreversibly and potentially insurmountably changed.

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The live-action show jammed Jet and the Freedom Fighters, the Cave of Two Lovers, the mechanist and brand-new scenes developing Iroh and Zuko all into the Omashu storyline. Of all the major creative changes, this was the least rocky shift. If it had come at the expense of King Bumi’s trolling of Aang, I would have thrown a fit. But it didn’t, and I credit Netflix for that.

I could write an entire article about how badly Uncle Iroh’s character was botched. The remake strips him of everything that made him arguably the show’s most iconic figure. As a cartoon, he’s friendly, giddy and soft-spoken. His velvet voice reinforces his calming and welcoming presence. In the live action, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee is too gruff and grounded for the role. He reminds me of my dad after a long day at the office, not the undisturbed figure Iroh is supposed to be.

Many critics had problems with creative choices involving Sokka’s development. I didn’t. In my eyes, his sexism served as a vehicle to simplify his maturation in the cartoon. I think centering his growth around becoming a protector and warrior was just as impactful and a lot more mature. I would have loved to see Ian Ousley in the full Kyoshi Warrior war paint and ensemble, though.

I also have to give credit where credit is due. Zuko, played by Dallas Liu, was perfectly cast and plot was added to strengthen his character depth. Commander Zhao’s death and final verbal jab to Zuko was beautifully executed.

Don’t get me wrong — I’ll be back for season two. The show invokes nostalgia for old fans and, if nothing else, the visual effects team should take home some hardware next awards season. I can’t say enough about how psychedelic it was to see Avatar’s world of diverse nature settings brought to life. That part was done to perfection.

But if I hadn’t seen the original show, I would have turned this off after the second episode. It’s slow, convoluted and limited by the narrowed capabilities of human actors and special effects.