Why Nickelodeon’s ‘Avatar’ had to add ‘The Last Airbender’ to its title

Avatar: The Way of Copyright Infringement.

Lester Fabian Brathwaite

Well, animator Giancarlo Volpe put at least one of those age-old mysteries to rest earlier this week. In a tweet Sunday, Volpe mentioned that James Cameron had the rights to Avatar as far back as 2004, five years before the film saw the computer-generated light of day.

AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER Season 2 Gallery January 2006 L-R: SOKKA, KATARA, AANG, MOMO; Avatar (2009) Zoe Saldana and Sam Worthington

Why Nickelodeon’s ‘Avatar’ had to add ‘The Last Airbender’ to its title


“In 2004 we learned that we had to change the name of our show from Avatar to Avatar: The Last Airbender because James Cameron already had the rights to a movie called Avatar,” Volpe tweeted. “Now the sequel is called The Way of Water. If part 3 is called The Firebending Masters we riot.”

Premiering in 2005 on Nickelodeon, Avatar: The Last Airbender followed the adventures of 12-year-old Aang, the last surviving Airbender who also happens to be the Avatar, the only person capable of bending all four elements — earth, fire, wind, and water — and maintaining balance in the world.

The Last Airbender ran for three seasons and 61 episodes, of which Volpe directed 19, and spawned the sequel series The Legend of Korra, as well as a live-action film, and an upcoming live-action remake at Netflix, among other properties.

Cameron’s Avatar, on the other hand, premiered in 2009 and eventually became the highest-grossing movie of all time, thanks to inflation and a theatrical re-release in China. The long-awaited sequel The Way of Water comes out Dec. 16 and introduces the Metkayina, a clan of the blue-skinned Na’vi who have adapted to ocean life.

Cameron started developing the concept in 1994, so it’s probably safe to say that the two Avatar universes have nothing else in common but their names. Though it wouldn’t hurt to have more Sigourney Weaver in both.

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Avatar: The Last Airbender

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