2021 has been quite a year for animation. Dash Shaw’s Cryptozoo dove headfirst into surrealistic imagery to deliver a message about environmentalism. Raya and the Last Dragon did the same while swapping the surrealism with beautiful action sequences. City of Ghosts hugged everyone’s souls with its exploration of Los Angeles. Invincible broadened the horizons of animated gore as well as the superhero sub-genre. And the list goes on with IPs like The Mitchells vs. the Machines, Wish Dragon, Trese, Luca, Batman: The Long Halloween, Masters of the Universe: Revelation, Vivo, The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf, and Star Wars: Visions. So, it’s great to see that the medium is going strong with Maya and the Three!

The Jorge R. Gutiérrez directed series, written by Silvia Cardenas Olivas, Candie Kelty Langdale, Doug Langdale, and Gutiérrez, is set in a fantastical world inspired by Aztec, Maya, and Inca mythology and modern-day Caribbean culture, divided into four kingdoms which boast of unique skills, traditions, powers, and spirit animals. It follows Maya (Zoe Saldaña), a princess with aspirations of joining her brothers, The Jaguar Triplets (all voiced by Gael García Bernal), as a warrior, who is forced to take on a more diplomatic role by her parents, King Teca (Gutiérrez) and Queen Teca (Sandra Equihua). But on her coronation day, an emissary of the God of War (Alfred Molina), Zatz (Diego Luna) pays the Teca kingdom a visit and lets them know that they must sacrifice Maya to the God of War or face extinction.

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There’s no shame in saying that the tale in question is as old as time. A hero going on a legendary quest to reunite a broken world with their goodness in order to fight off the forces of evil is a staple of the adventure genre. But what makes Maya and the Three truly special is how it re-introduces messages about compassion, love, forgiveness, self-acceptance, confidence, unity, commitment, environmentalism, zoophilia, kindness, and more for a generation that’s growing up. Yes, yes, there’s a lot of adult material for the grown-ups to enjoy, while learning the aforementioned things again. However, I feel that recently there isn’t a lot of quality and kid-friendly entertainment, animated or not, that professes wholesome values. It’s dumbed-down way too much for kids or not aimed at them at all. Maya and the Three is one of those rare examples that walk the fine line of being educational and enjoyable as hell.

Maya and the Three

For example, in India, merciless violence and killings are often glorified by the national media, on social media, and in our family WhatsApp groups. The same people will also go around promoting toxic masculinity, misogyny, and blatant acts of barbarism. And you can imagine the impact it can have on impressionable people, regardless of their age, when all this bile reaches their living rooms in an unfiltered fashion.

So, to see someone like Picchu (Gabriel Iglesias), the greatest warrior in the Golden Mountains who is born to battle all the time, telling us that being merciful isn’t stupidity is undoubtedly surprising and heartwarming. That it is not a sign of weakness, but an act that’s stronger and more courageous than swinging a sword and killing one’s enemy. Yes, it comes at a price if you are up against a disrespectful enemy who will backstab you. But ultimately, that says more about their character, or lack thereof, than yours. And Picchu is one of the protagonists. Hence, you can imagine how intricately every character has been written.

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Now, it’s risky to delve further into the plot and characters because they come with their own set of twists and turns which should be enjoyed first-hand. Therefore, let’s talk about how Maya and the Three’s looks and sounds. Gutiérrez, along with production designer Paul Sullivan, art director Gerald de Jesus, sequence directors Rie Koga, Hyunjoo Song, and John Aoshima, and editor Myra Lopez, have created a visual masterpiece.

Props to the sound department team and music composer Tim Davies for adding to the feast with their wide array of modern and traditional instruments and effects. Additionally, huge kudos to the people who have financed the show for not holding back on any level because the show truly does not hold back on any level. It has action lines (like the ones you see in anime movies and shows), 2D animation, 3D animation, some of the most incredible lighting your eyes have seen, insanely detailed characters’ designs and environments, and a blatant disregard for realism.

Maya and the Three

Yes, you can pause on any given frame from Maya and the Three and you’ll see that Gutiérrez and his team are not even remotely concerned with realism. The emotions are real. The shine on the metallic surfaces, the weathered bits coming out of the cloth-like materials, the grooves on the leather-based armor, and the light reflecting and refracting through the various ornaments are grounded in reality. But they are asymmetrical, they have imperfect edges, and some of them do not even have a center of gravity. Heck,  the character designs are not biologically accurate. The Moon has grooves that make it look like a smiling skull! However, that’s what makes it all seem dynamic and unlike anything you have ever seen before.

Reality is overrated. Surrealism should be the norm, especially when it comes to fantasy, adventure, and the medium of animation. If you’re trying to make your images look similar to what we see in real life, you’ve failed already (Looking at you 2019’s The Lion King). Maya and the Three doesn’t, and hence it is a clear winner.

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To put it plainly, if you are healthy (mentally and physically) and you don’t have any backlogs in terms of work or studies, you must dedicate 4 hours of your life (9 episodes, 30 minutes each) to Maya and the Three. It is simply that good. It is one of the best animated shows of all time. It is one of the best shows of all time, period. It features knock-out vocal performances from Saldaña, Gutiérrez, Iglesias, Luna, Bernal, Molina, Equihua, Allen Maldonado, Stephanie Beatriz, Kate del Castillo, Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin, Rosie Perez, Queen Latifah, Wyclef Jean, Isabela Merced, Chelsea Rendon, Joaquín Cosío, Carlos Alazraqui, Eric Bauza, and Rita Moreno. If you have kids, nephews, nieces, sit them down and make them watch this show. If you don’t, sit yourself down and watch the show. Bottom-line, watch Maya and the Three under every and any (unproblematic) circumstances. You don’t want to miss this.

Maya and the Three is now streaming on Netflix


Maya and the Three Links – IMDb, Wikipedia

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