Maya and the Three review: Netflix’s ‘animated event’ is a fantastic adventure

This site has spent years developing behind-the scenes. The Book of Life director and animator Jorge R. Gutiérrez is finally back, this time with a fantastical adventure epic set in a Mesoamerican-inspired world. A nine-episode series billed as an “animated event” (a fancy way of saying it’s a complete story rather than the opening season of an ongoing series) Maya and The Three sparked when Netflix asked Guitérrez to pitch an idea that he couldn’t produce anywhere else — and he came back with a vivid fantasy epic about a Mesoamerican warrior princess saving the world.

However Maya and The Three’s plot structure gives it a slightly repetitive start, the dynamic, gorgeous visuals bolster the drawn-out fight sequences, making them brilliantly eye-catching. By the time all the pieces come together, Gutiérrez imbues the show with nuanced approaches to death and defeat, coloring the experience into something memorable.

[Ed. note: This review contains slight setup spoilers for Maya and the Three.]

maya and her father and mother

Image courtesy of Netflix

The opening episode of Maya and The Three, warrior princess Maya (Zoe Saldaña) learns that Lord Mictlan, the god of war (Alfred Molina), wishes to sacrifice her for power — and if she doesn’t surrender to him, he’ll attack and destroy her whole kingdom. Maya sets out to find three warriors to help save her homeland. Problem is? Each of the warriors — goofy Rooster Wizard Rico (Allen Maldonado), aloof hermit archer Chimi (Stephanie Beatriz), and simple-minded, bulky warrior Picchu (Gabriel Iglesias) — is battling their own internal demons. Maya, along with the others, travel to the Underworld gates to stop gods from devastating humanity.

Episodes in the first part of Maya and The Three follow a similar formula, almost to a T: Maya wants to recruit a new warrior from an allied kingdom, so she journeys there, discovers the candidate she thought would fit the role is not the right one, finds out that some outcast is actually the person she’s seeking, and convinces that person to accompany her. Each time, the outcast warrior is hesitant about joining Maya, but each time, after facing some of the underworld gods, the new warrior wholeheartedly joins up with Maya’s cause. While the overall structure can be repetitive, there is joy in each land’s unique visual look and in the powers of both the heroes and gods.

The distinct character designs — which seamlessly translate into how each character moves and fights — make the individual action scenes unique. Maya is armed with a glowing giant sword that she must use to get into close-up combat, while Chimi, who was raised in animals, follows from afar to make her point. Each god has their own fighting style, dependent on their respective domains, and when they appear on screen for the first time, it’s with a brightly colored title card, announcing them like they’re superheroes or special guest stars.

a goddess with brilliant hot pink wings

Image courtesy of Netflix

It feels like a distinctly modern touch to the otherwise historical setting, And waiting to see the next adversary’s little announcement turns into a fun experience, since their announcement will be bold and flashy. For instance, at one point Maya and her friends face the Goddess of Gators (Rosie Perez), who can transform herself into a giant alligator — andYou can transform your limbs separately into snapping, gator-heads. She’s just one of the many gods in the impressive pantheon, which also features the voice talents of Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin, Diego Luna, and Kate del Castillo, among others.

The show’s third episode is a surprise, and it subverts many expectations about heroic fantasy epics. This applies to all animated movies or shows made in America. For one thing, there are plenty of moments where Maya and her friends fail at their goals, because they’re a group of young adults up against mighty, powerful gods. Maya and The ThreeThe American animation tradition is unique in how it handles death and defeat. Death still isn’t posited as a solely happy occurrence, but much like The Book of Life or Pixar’s Coco Maya and The ThreeThis is a nuanced examination of it, and it’s not just a end to life.

Maya and The Three’s startling ending makes sense for all the characters involved. Their quest doesn’t entirely resolve as they expected, and their victories come with meaningful costs. However, these outcomes can be seen as natural developments of the characters and their shared experiences. In the final episode of the series, the show culminates in the greatest battle ever. There are equal amounts given to heroic moments and deeply felt sacrifices. Due to Maya’s journey of loss and reflection, this final conflict brings more depth to her heroic quest. You can start watching Maya and The Three You will love the visually stunning fights and action, but you’ll also enjoy the touching character stories that lead to satisfying ends.

Maya and The ThreeAvailable on Netflix Now

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