Maya and the Three review: A mini-series masterpiece

Maya and the Three serves as a testament to the recent strides Netflix has taken in the realm of animation. In giving the award-winning creator Jorge Gutierrez full creative control, Netflix may have funded one of the best mini-series ever.

This all-new limited series set in ancient Mesoamerica tells the tale of Maya, a Teca princess who would much rather become a warrior than a diplomat.  In order to avoid being sacrificed to the God of War Lord Mictlan, Maya must recruit the other warriors of the prophecy and band together to defeat the vengeful gods.

Zoe Saldana heads this star-studded cast as Maya, joined by Allen Maldonado as Rico, Stephanie Beatriz as Chimi, and Gabriel Iglesias as Picchu. Almost the entirety of the cast behind the microphone are actors of color, while the crew features Latin creators, namely Jorge Gutierrez, Silvia Cardenas Olivas, and Mafer Hernandez.

Few Mexican folktales and Latin stories have been explored in animation, so seeing an entire series dedicated to depicting such a vibrant culture is a definite win for diversity. Maya and the Three is a nine-part series that radiates heart in every shot and deserves your attention this lovely October season.

What happens in Maya and the Three?

This story could not be properly told in the length of an average feature film, and so giving Maya and the Three a limited series gave the plot the room it needed to breathe. By giving the story the girth to start and finish within nine 25-45 minute episodes, the prophecy quest format is imbued with new life.

At first, you know what to expect with Princess Maya. She’s a princess, she wants to be a warrior, and those two ideas don’t line up in her world, no matter how confident she may be. The tide turns at her coronation day when a messenger from the Underworld, Zatz, delivers unwelcome news: Maya is expected to come to her rightful kingdom the Underworld and be sacrificed in the name of the God of War, Lord Mictlan. Not only is her birth mother Lady Micte the Goddess of Death, but the prophecy involving her father and brothers seems to have been misinterpreted all along.

The Teca warriors manage to fight off Zatz and his henchmen, and the army sets out to destroy The Divine Gate to prevent Lord Mictlan from attacking them again. King Teca is the only survivor when he, his army, and his three sons come face to face with the God of War, prompting Maya to delve into how she can save herself and her kingdom.

Maya ends up deciphering the real prophecy and sets off to find the strongest warrior from each of the neighboring kingdoms. The quest leads Maya to magician Rico on Luna Island, archer Chimi from the Jungle Lands, and barbarian Picchu from the Golden Mountains, all outcasts who find solace under a new leader and a noble cause. Each character has a satisfying emotional arc that doesn’t detract from the pacing of the story, successfully developing the characters during a multitude of satisfying battle sequences.

Will Maya, Rico, Chimi, and Picchu be able to defeat the terrifying Lord Mictlan before he amasses enough power to destroy the human realm? If you want to find out, you can binge Maya and the Three in around five hours!

What makes Maya and the Three special?

Whether or not the show makes Netflix’s Top 10Maya and the Three is a winner from all angles. The cast, animation, music, and story come together to create an exciting standalone mini-series that will capture audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

The character lineup takes advantage of the common viewer’s knowledge of personality tropes and expands on the idea to create unique individuals. Maya may seem like the princess who wants to be a warrior trope, but she’s in fact quite aware of her own shortcomings and has already proved her worth battle-wise. Chimi shows more emotion than your usual femme fatale protagonist, and Zatz is the handsome villain-turned-ally who was never really a villain to begin with.

The voice acting also deserves a note, as it’s clear each actor gave their all when recording lines for this truly memorable miniseries. While Saldana has had more credits on screen, her dedication to emotion truly shines through in her voice as Maya.

As the “power of friendship” ending has been overused to the point of no return, Maya and the Three found a clever solution to making the theme of teamwork less cheesy. After devastating loss at the hands of vengeful gods, the Teca, Jungle, Barbarian, and Luna Island kingdoms join together not to avenge the dead, but to secure the warrior spirits in generations to come. It’s not friendship or teamwork as a concept that can save these Mesoamerican kingdoms, but how love in any form can imbue the strength in people to fight for a cause.

Maya and the Three also proves that animation can be hardcore while still being family-friendly! Lord Mictlan is one of the most intense, heavy-metal gods I’ve ever had the pleasure to see animated, even with the aggressive headcount he has. The intense scenes are made even cooler by a soundtrack ripped with rock-and-roll, and the fighting is as well choreographed as any action movie.

Gutierrez also utilized breaking the black bar frame for intensity in battle scenes and occasionally for comedic effect, bringing the story to life even on a tiny screen. Unfortunately by the end of the series, the trick was overused to the point it was no longer special. Whether Netflix will warm to breaking the frame consistently in their media is yet to be seen, but Maya and the Three does it often enough to be considered a modern pioneer of the concept.

Maya and the Three showcases what the future of animation looks like—or at least, what I hope it will look like. New takes on classic tropes, explicit representation, and unique character designs can be appreciated even more with the mini-series format. As Netflix continues to greenlight limited shows and Disney funds their extravagant Marvel mini-series, it looks like television is heading towards a more compact format as opposed to long-form television or single-release feature films. With a limited series now under his belt, I can’t wait to see what Gutierrez brings next to the Netflix streaming platform!

What did you think of Maya and the Three? Share your thoughts in the comments below.