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. 

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Essential

The Other Side of Animation 148: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse 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/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!)

If you saw my editorials, talking about what I would like to see change in the big budget US animation scene, I talked about how certain studios should and could use a “shot in the arm” with trying out more ambitious storylines and visual styles. Animation is such a wonderful medium that is hamstrung by studios not bothering with stepping out of their comfort zones. Thankfully, Sony Pictures Animation decided to be a brave individual, and show that not only do you not need to spend triple digit millions, but can also make massive long-term profit and award acclaim with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Directed by the trio of Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, and Rodney Rothman, Spider-Verse was released back in December to universal acclaim, winning a massive pile of awards, and has certified itself by a team of me, myself, and I, as the best US animated film of 2018. Shall we swing into the review?

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The story revolves around Miles Morales, voiced by Shameik Moore. He’s a high school student who lives in a world where Spider-Man exists. Nothing is really all that different here in this universe. Spider-Man, voiced by Chris Pine, is loved, Miles dad, voiced by Brian Tyree Henry doesn’t trust Spider-Man, and Miles doesn’t really care about going the distance in becoming a better person. After hanging out with his uncle Aaron Davis, voiced by Mahershala Ali, Miles encounters Spider-Man attempting to stop King Pin, voiced by Liev Schreiber from using a giant machine to cause some supposed chaos. Luckily, Spider-Man sort of stops the machine from working while fending off Green Goblin and The Prowler. The bad news is that Spider-Man ends up getting killed by King Pin. The city is then swept over by sorrow from the loss of Spider-Man, and Miles feels responsible for the death of his universe’s Spider-Man. That is, until he encounters a much more self-defeated Peter Parker aka Spider-Man, voiced by Jake Johnson, from another universe. As the two try to find a way to get the alternate Spider-Man back to his own dimension, they encounter other Spider-Men from different dimensions. This includes Spider-Gwen, voiced by Hailee Steinfeld, Spider-Man Noir, voiced by Nicholas Cage, SP//dr, a Japanese anime-style Spider-Man/robot pilot voiced by Kimiko Glenn, and Spider-Ham, voiced by John Mulaney. They team up to try and stop King Pin, along with his lackeys Prowler, Tombstone, voiced by Marvin Jones III, Doctor Octopus, voiced by Kathryn Han, and Scorpion, voiced by Joaquin Cosio, from starting up the machine again, and possibly destroying Miles’ universe.

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Like a couple of times in my reviews, I want to talk about the animation first. This was the first big selling point when everyone saw the first teaser trailer for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The visuals are literally jaw dropping. You will lose your jaw, and then have to go get it surgically reattached with how incredible and striking the visuals are. Everyone has said it, and it’s true, it looks like a literal moving comic book. The bright colors, the many details you would see in most comic books, the textures, the lighting, the designs, and how it all meshes well. Not one character from the different dimensions stands out in a bad way. Everything flows and gels well. I have seen some people argue that the animation is bad, but I’m sorry, that’s just objectively wrong. If you follow animation, then you know Spider-Verse does not have bad animation. The slower framerate and movements are there for a reason. If everything moved as fast as say, Sony’s Hotel Transylvania franchise, it would be an eye sore with all the bright and multi-colored visuals. It’s a style of animation that is used in other parts of the world, like in The Painting and Zombillenium. It’s used to work with the unique art style and not a budget limitation. When you see as much animation that varies in both budget and quality, you can see what is style and what is bad animation. Norm of the North is bad animation. Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse is good animation. End of lecture.

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In terms of the story, Spider-Verse has one of the most complex and complete stories out of most animated films in 2018. It’s the best told story among the US-made films. Films like Incredibles 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet felt like they either didn’t go far enough with their themes and story, or only went at them in ways where they only go 50% and not 100%. Spider-Man fully commits to its multi-verse storyline mixed in with themes of coming of age, finding your own identity, not being fixated on events from the past, what it means to be a hero, and the harsh realities of being a hero. Every character works well with one another, and they treat everyone as characters. Sure, you can argue and nitpick and say that three of the six Spider-Mans don’t get as much development as the other three, but all six aren’t the main focus. The real focus is on Spider-Gwen, Miles, and Jake Johnson’s Peter Parker. Even Miles’ parents and Parker’s Aunt May are easily some of the best characters out of the movie. It’s so shocking to see an animated film treat everyone with actual dimension and not as one-note archetypes. While you can say that this film’s version of King Pin is not as good as the Netflix one, that isn’t really fair. This is one movie, whereas the Netflix one had three seasons to flesh out the character. It’s not really a perfect one on one comparison. However, you still get why King Pin is doing what he’s doing in the movie, and that’s pretty good. I also like how the film skims over origin stories. We really don’t need another Spider-Man movie that takes 40 minutes of its runtime to flesh out what happens. At least, it’s not a 100% origin story with the exception of Miles Morales, who has probably one of the best developments and stories out of any superhero movie.

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The voice cast for this film is perfect, and everyone seems to be on board and on the same level as everyone else. This isn’t like Venom or The Meg, where everyone, but one or two people know what kind of movie they are in. The talent is crazy good with Shameik Moore, Brian Tyree Henry, Mahershala Ali, Hailee Steinfield, Nicolas Cage, John Mulaney, Liev Schreiber, Jake Johnson, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, Kimiko Glenn, and as usual, seeing the late great Stan Lee in one of his last cameos is touching and endearing. The music is also incredible with plenty of amazing pop and rap songs that fit the tone perfectly. I even bought the soundtrack after I saw the film. I still listen to Vince Staples’ track.

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I really have no complaints about this movie. It’s truly the best US-made animated film of 2018, and congrats to Sony Pictures Animation for their successful 2018 line-up of animated features. Sure, I have minor gripes, but they really don’t matter when everything else is so strong. I highly recommend checking this film out, or getting it on blu-ray the day it comes out. It’s smart, funny, endearing, action-packed, and a blast. I think anyone who thought Sony Pictures Animation should just shut down and “drop dead” need to go crawl under a rock and never come back. Now then, before we hit 150, let’s keep making sure everything is awesome with LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials