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Netflix's Maya and the Three is beautiful in a distinctly Mexican way

  • "I can’t overstate the beauty of Maya and the Three, premiering on Netflix tomorrow," says Cristina Escobar. "It’s a different beauty than Anglo audiences are used to. A lot of animation is “colorful” but that word doesn’t come close to describing the dense visuals of Maya. The nine-part series layers color, ranging from earth tones to neon, on top of texture to ensure each frame is its own work of art. Netflix’s latest treats each new scene, and particularly each new character, as a chance to push its visual style, introducing new elements in its Indigenous iconography every step of the way. If that sounds like a lot, it is. But “Maya and the Three” isn’t overwhelming like so many other kids’ shows (and I watch a lot of them as a parent of two). It balances its visuals, foregrounding stylistically distinct characters over lush nature scenes, formidable temples, and stunning magical realms. And it plays with simplicity too, blending in flattened 2D visuals, like those of pre-conquest paintings, into its 3D world. You see, it’s not just that Maya and the Three is beautiful, it’s that the show is beautiful in a distinctly Mexican way. Our culture is famously 'colorful,' but in creator Jorge R. Gutiérrez’s hands, that means even more than anything to come out of the visually-lauded Pixar—even my beloved Coco doesn't push its imagery this much. The visuals are enough to keep viewers off their phones for all nine episodes, but the plot is compelling too, even for grown-ups. "


    • Maya and the Three is like nothing else in animation: "After years in development behind the scenes, 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," says Petrana Radulovic. "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. While 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."
    • Maya and the Three finds an epic news ways to mine familiar fairy tales: "In its most basic iteration, Maya and the Three could have been a cute enough story of a plucky girl who saves the world," says Caroline Framke. "What a treat, then, to watch as the show digs deeper, reaches farther, and takes bigger leaps to explore more complicated terrain. It’s an epic, in all senses of the word, with a palpable love for its world that proves hard to resist."
    • Every scene in Maya and the Three is a feast for the eyes: "Deep golds, shimmering blues and fierce reds meld beautifully in this Netflix series about the adventures of a Mesoamerican teen who’s more interested in polishing her fighting skills than attending to her royal duties," says Lovia Gyarkye. The show, Gyarkye adds, takes on "an engaging and twisting adventure, rooted in the rich history of indigenous cultures and led by Maya, who is seeking answers about her past and trying to save her kingdom. Each episode offers opportunities to deepen our understanding of this fantastical world and to relish the visual depth of Gutiérrez’s adeptly constructed and absolutely stunning series."
    • Maya is a sprawling affair with intricately worked out action and a digressive plot: "Yet one feels — though it can’t actually be the case given that it takes a heap of help to make an animated feature — that the route from sketchbook to screen was a short one," says Robert Lloyd. "Its eccentricities, even its occasional awkwardness, are not distinct from its poetry. To say it can be a little corny and sentimental, though usually with a joke to pull things back from the brink of mawkishness, is only to say it has heart; in any case, it worked on me visually and emotionally, as thoroughly on a second viewing as on the first. (And it’s worth a rewatch to get a better sense of the elaborate design and to pick up bits of the story you may have been missed while looking at the pictures. There is a lot to keep track of.)"
    • Why Maya and the Three has episodes ranging from 25 to 43 minutes in length: "I’ve been incredibly lucky in that I’ve gotten to make a TV show and a movie in my career," says creator Jorge R. Gutiérrez. "When we finished The Book of Life, I realized there was maybe an hour of stuff sitting on the cutting room floor. All these stories and side characters we just had to cut because we didn’t have the budget. I love cold opens, and if you watch something like the Lord of the Rings you see there are cold opens where you get little glimpses at the beginning of the second and third films, and that had a huge influence on me. I’m addicted to back stories, so with Maya it was like playing a game of Who Can We Give the Most Tragic Backstory? We really kept trying to up the ante. With Maya my main budget was time. I had 270-minutes, so I had to be very clever with the emotion of the show and keep people invested, keeping them wanting more."
    • In creating Maya, Gutiérrez and cultural consultant Sandra Equihua consciously aimed to turn the Mexican history they’d learned in school on its head: This is a history Gutierrez says is “full of warrior women that don’t get the credit.” He adds: “I started meeting people from Latin America, and I started having friends from Puerto Rico and Peru, Argentina and Central America, Guatemala, El Salvador. I became a better artist when I heard their experiences and their stories.”

    TOPICS: Maya and the Three, Netflix, Jorge R. Gutiérrez