The Other Side of Animation 237: Maya and The Three

(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Jorge Gutierrez is one of the most visually distinct artists in the animation scene. His distinct Hispanic/Lantinx inspiration has made him a fan-favorite artist for his work on El Tigre and 2014’s The Book of Life, to name a few of his incredible works. When we talk about artists with visually distinct styles, he is one to be on the lookout for. There is something so incredibly charming and appealing about his work, and hearing that he was one of the original artists picked up to make something original for Netflix was thrilling to hear. Luckily, his newest project, Maya and The Three, a nine-part limited event series, is quite possibly his best work and one of the best new shows/event series of 2021. 

The story revolves around a young lass named Maya, voiced by Zoe Saldaña. She lives with her family who are mighty warriors that include her father King and queen Teca, voiced by real-life couple and creators of the show Jorge R. Gutierrez and Sandra Equihua. On her 15th birthday, the underworld gods tell her that she must come with them to pay for her sins and past actions made by her family. To try and prevent her fate, Maya goes on an adventure to try and uphold the prophecy that her parents told her, about how a mighty eagle warrior and her allies will take down the God of War and save their people. 

The best part about this limited series is how well it fleshes out its characters. The creators tend to take an admirable amount of time to set everything up, and it never feels awkward or unnatural for the plot to snap back from giving each of the backstories of our characters to going back to the main plot of the episode. It’s a straightforward story as Maya encounters her three allies while taking on Gods of all shapes and sizes. It makes for a fun watch that never skips on what needs to be told and the stellar action sequences. While there are goofy and silly elements to the overarching story, it’s one that can get dark, and there will be character deaths. It’s a tale that has themes of death, dealing with loss, family, discrimination, and dealing with legacy. You may assume this is for kids only, but be ready to turn into an emotional messy blob with how difficult the story beats will impact you in the feels. If you have loved the stories from films like Kubo and the Two Strings, then you will feel right at home with this show’s tone. There are some that may say it would have been cool to see as a movie, but the nine-episode runtime gives everything enough room to develop. Sure, there could be some downtime for the characters to breathe, but it’s a show that knows where it wants to go with its story. 

One of the goals for this show from Jorge and Sandra was to make Maya a series with a theatrical look and budget, and boy howdy, they got it down. This is one of the best-looking tv/event series you could find on the streaming service. The CGI is top quality from the animation studio Tangent Animation, Mexopolis, Maya Entertainment, and Netflix Animation. The designs carry Jorge and Sandra’s iconic visual flair with the designs with Jorge translating extremely well into CGI. Characters have a ton of detail to them, but it never feels too busy. You can tell what kind of character each individual is by the look of their designs. They even throw in some 2D sequences to add a little flair to the overall polished package. The world they craft is so creative. Rooster-shaped magic schools, lunar moon islands, mist-covered temples, colossal golems, neon speed lines, upside-down pyramids, gods that can cause tornadoes, gator-headed gods, and you get the idea. They went all out to make a fantastic world in which everyone thrives. 

The voice cast is fantastic, with a Hispanic/Latinx cast that has a ton of amazing actors and some of them get to play against type, which is really refreshing to see when you sometimes only see these actors play one type of character. You, of course, have the incredible  Zoe Saldaña who is fantastic as our lead heroine. You also have Diego Luna, Stephanie Beatriz, Gabriel Iglesias, Alfred Molina, Gael Garcia Bernal, Danny Trejo, Allen Maldonado, Cheech Marin, Rosie Perez, Wyclef Jean, Queen Latifah, Carlos Alazraqui, Eric Bauza, Joaquin Cosio, Isabela Merced, Rita Moreno, and other incredible voices. They put out some of their best work as these characters, and the voice acting is matched by an incredible score composed by Gustavo Santaolalla, who composed the music for The Last of Us series, Brokeback Mountain, The Book of Life, and Narcos: Mexico. Tim Davies, who also helped with music for Darksiders, Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time, Batman: Arkham City, The Simpsons Movie, Ant-Man, Crimson Peak, Frozen II, and many other shows, films, and games also composed the show’s score.

The fact of the matter is, Maya and the Three is incredible. This is one of those event series that you get hyped for, and the hype is 100% worth it. It’s incredible to see a creator like Jorge and his amazing team put together something truly inspiring, grand, and beautiful. You have one of the best stories told in animation this year, and if you are in the mood for something truly distinct, then you will need to watch this epic series. Now then, I’m going to keep what’s coming next under wraps. You will just have to check in next time to see the next review. 

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Rating: Essential

The Other Side of Animation 156: UglyDolls Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

The big problem with making an animated film based on a property is that it can take a while to get it off the ground. While animated features can be easier to make cohesive in terms of everything looking like it belonged on screen, trends and popular brands come and go at lightning-fast speeds. Animation is a long process that usually takes up to three or four years (usually) to go into production and animate. That’s why it’s really odd to see films like The Angry Birds Movie, the upcoming Dora the Explorer movie, and Playmobil movie, because they haven’t been popular for years before their release. It’s also not easy to simply halt production. As you already spent a lot of money on the rights, talent, and animation, the investors and studios would love to see that product come to life. Rarely do you hear about an animated film getting halted mid-production and delayed to redo a year or two of work. Unfortunately, by the time your film based on the popular brand comes out, it could be years since anyone last talked about it or even knew about it. This is the situation that the UglyDolls movie finds itself in. Directed by Kelly Asbury of Shrek 2, Gnomeo & Juliet, Smurfs: The Lost Village, and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron fame, the movie based on the cult-favorite toy line has more of an interesting history behind It than anything else. Originally announced back in 2011, Illumination got the rights to make the feature, with Chris Meledandri to produce the film alongside the creators of the brand David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim also set to executive produce. Obviously, something happened to that relationship, as in 2015, the rights and production swapped to STX Entertainment, and the animation was being done by Reel FX Entertainment, the same studio behind The Book of Life, Rock Dog, Sherlock Gnomes, and the upcoming Scoob. What’s even crazier is that Robert Rodriguez is now the executive producer, and is behind the story of the film, and was set to direct. Obviously, Kelly Asbury took over, but Robert Rodriguez is still behind the story, and is executive producer alongside Jane Hartwell and Oren Aviv. With what I can tell, the original creators of UglyDolls are no longer attached as producers of this film. So, we have a film that has been in development for quite a long time, switched hands and directors a couple of times, based on a toy line that only had a cult fanbase, and, as of writing this review, is a critical and financial bomb. Yeah, let’s dive in!

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UglyDolls follows our lead character Moxy, voiced by Kelly Clarkson. She is an Uglydoll that lives in a realm called Uglyville, a part of a world where rejected/”ugly” dolls are tossed. Moxy lives there with her friends Lucky Bat, voiced by Wang Leehom, Ugly Dog, voiced by Pitbull, Wage, voiced by Wanda Sykes, Babo, voiced by Gabriel Iglesias, and the town’s mayor Ox, voiced by Blake Shelton. Moxy’s dream is to find a human to live with, but is constantly told that humans are a myth. Of course, she and her friends decide to leave the town to find a new world. As they venture out of Uglyville, they find themselves in a place known as Perfection, a town where the “perfect” dolls end up to be with children. The leader of this place is a guy doll named Lou, voiced by Nick Jonas, that is pretty much going to tell you to your face that you aren’t perfect. Well, Moxy and her friends aren’t going to stand down, and are going to show that they are just as worthy of being with children as the regular dolls. Can they thwart Lou’s evil plan? Can they show that being yourself is great? Can this film actually make sense of its world and how it works?

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That’s literally one of the biggest issues this film has. Due to its rushed development, the world-building of UglyDolls doesn’t make a lick of sense. It becomes confusing when they introduce a portal to the human world in Perfection. So, where does the portal go? Is it a single toy store? Is it linked to multiple stores? Do the humans know of this realm of living toys? Who made this factory? If the toys can go to and from the human world, where do they go for the portal? It seems like another run-through on the script was not in the favor of the writers, because a lot of this could have been fixed if they just went through the setting another time. Just take out the humans and let them be this world of living dolls. Granted, fixing the setting and premise wouldn’t have fixed the writing.

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This has to be one of the most repetitive scripts that I have ever seen in an animated film. None of the jokes landed outside of one from the one-eyed unicorn, and the pacing of the script was essentially the same thing every single scene. They get a challenge thrown at them by Lou, everyone gives up, Moxy says they can’t give up, her friends doubt her, she pushes through, and then they make it through. It’s the same set-up for almost every scene. They do have a weak twist in the story, but no one in the audience cares, because it’s not subtly telegraphed. A lot of the film’s themes and morals are essentially “hit over your head” with the light touch of a wrecking ball crashing through a building. Outside of maybe Moxy and Lou, none of the other characters have a lot of personality to them. They really have one character trait, and that doesn’t equal having an identity. This might be because STX, in all of their wisdom, are making a TV series based on the film for Hulu, which I don’t even think is going to get made now. I don’t know why you would, because the movie is bombing, and I haven’t seen one truly positive review for it.

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The lack of refinement bleeds into the voice work. This movie showcases the worst of celebrity voice casting. There are so many that you could easily just recast with voice actors who, while maybe not able to save the material they are given, could, you know, voice act! You never once see the characters. You only see the celebrities that they hired, which takes you out of the story in a super frustrating way. The animation also lacks polish. While $45 mil is still a lot of money, it definitely shows that this film needed more time, more money, and more creativity. A couple of the song sequences just put the characters in flat backgrounds, you can tell when some characters are sliding across the ground, and while Perfection fits the themes of the film, it also looks like they copy and pasted a lot of the doll models and houses. They try to go for that felt design seen in films like 2016’s Trolls, but it fails to capture Trolls’ wildly colorful world.

So, what do I actually like about the film? Very little. I hate saying that, but it’s true! I think out of all the actors in this film, the only ones that are trying are Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, and Blake Shelton. I thought they put in the most decent performances. In terms of the animation, I like how accurate the dolls look. Sure, they aren’t truly ugly, but they were based on a toy line, and they translated well to animation. Uglyville looks pretty solid as well. It’s vibrant, and probably the most creative-looking location in the entire film. While I do despise how cynical and manipulative this film feels, it was at least presented as intended, which is better than Wonder Park trying to be deeper than it knew how to be.

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I feel badly for UglyDolls. It never truly stood a chance when STX Entertainment decided to rush the product out to try and start a franchise. I’m not surprised it’s bombing, but I only feel sympathy for the animators for this film. It’s not easy to be working on tighter budgets and development times. I would say don’t go see this film, but seeing how it’s one of the newest films to bomb at the box office this year, no one is going to see it. Not even for a bad movie night, it’s just too boring for something like that. I hope Reel FX can get back on track with making some good films, but we will have to see how their next project turns out. Also, at the end of the day, it’s just another bad movie in a sea of bad movies. Once June comes around, and Toy Story 4 hits theaters, everyone, including me, will have forgotten about this film. It’s not worth hating on it for a long time, nor is it worth making awful YouTube videos that say all theatrical animation past 2009 sucks when it doesn’t. For now, I think it’s time head back over to Spain, and take a look at a film that was one of my favorite animated film experiences of last year and that’s going to get an official US release this year!  Next time, we shall dive into Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles. Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: The Worst/Blacklist