I can’t overstate the beauty of “Maya and the Three,” premiering on Netflix tomorrow. This is a different beauty from the ordinary Anglo audience. Many of the animations are “colorful” but words cannot describe the dense visuals of “Maya.” Color a nine-part series layer, ranging from earth tones to neon, over textures to ensure each frame is its own work of art.
The latest Netflix treats each new scene, and in particular each new character, as an opportunity 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” doesn’t go overboard like a lot of other kids shows (and I watched it a lot as a parent of two). It balances its visuals, bringing out stylistically distinct characters over lush natural landscapes, formidable temples, and stunning magical realms. And he also plays with simplicity, blending flat 2D visuals, like pre-conquest paintings, into his 3D world.
You know, not only is “Maya and the Three” beautiful, but the show is beautiful in a Mexican way. Our culture is notoriously “colorful”, but in the hands of creator Jorge R. Gutiérrez, that means more than anything to get out of the visually acclaimed Pixar—even my beloved “Coco” doesn’t push its image too much.
The visuals are enough to keep viewers off their phones for nine episodes, but the plot is also engaging, even for adults. It began when the God of War, Lord Mictlan, demanded that Teca Maya’s daughter be sacrificed. His family went to war for him but lost, so he soon had to find a way to protect himself, his parents, and his kingdom. The overall arc is a bit predictable—an origin story, then the gathering of his crew, a few obstacles along the way, then an even bigger confrontation. And it took too long for the “three” to get together, especially since we know from the title they’re going to.
But every fight scene is epic and there is about one episode. Maya and her group confront gods with devastating powers ranging from earthquakes to neon tattoo daggers (somehow, it works!). Each time, I’m not sure how Maya and co. will pass or win. The fight scenes last for the last few beats where I thought they would end, instilling each with a feeling of doubt that maybe we weren’t watching the traditional hero quest.
Indeed, “Maya and the Three” blends tragedy with adventure in a way that transcends the Bruce Wayne-type darkness common to adventure stories. During the show, Maya’s loved ones face injury and even death. There’s a brutality here that feels deeper and more unfair than what we’re used to seeing on screen, whether it’s a children’s show or not. But this darkness is balanced by a sense of fun and humor with goofy jokes that make me smile, romance that reminds us of the positive side of the human experience, and of course beautiful visuals.
The result is a show that represents the Latino community in a truly unique way. You can play a voice-guessing game—Zoe Saldaña plays Maya and it seems like every Latin talent is in it, from Rosie Perez to Gael Garcia Bernal, Danny Trejo and Stephanie Beatriz. But it’s more than just people getting together. “Maya and the Three” is a testament to Latino, and in particular to Mexican aesthetics, values and culture. It encourages what children can show, challenges others to raise their visual standards and storytelling. When Latinos say we want more representation and higher quality representation, we mean shows like “Maya and the Three.”