Nevertheless, it’s the fact that you may be more familiar with Disney-Pixar’s A Bug’s Life (1998) and DreamWorks’ Bee Movie (2007), so Maya seems like just another colourful animated insect trying to make something of her existence, even though she’s the great-grandma of the bunch. That said there is still a little innocent pleasure to be had from Maya though.
As soon as she is born, Maya the Bee (voiced by Mad Max: Fury Road’s Coco Jack Gillies) discovers she is one of an army of worker bees who are not allowed to dream or have fun but must work for the Queen (Miriam Margolyes). Maya decides she’s not just ‘a number’ and wants to dream and have fun, putting her in the direct line of fire with the Queen’s scheming personal adviser Buzzlina Von Beena (Jacki Weaver).
Buzzlina expels Maya from the hive – for despotic reasons other than the young bee’s continual disobedience, forcing Maya to find her own path in the meadow filled with danger. Maya persuades new Apidae chum Willy (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) to come along for the ride, where they encounter chirpy Cockney grasshopper Flip (Richard Roxburgh), who is a well of local knowledge.
Unbeknown to them, they also befriend Sting (Joel Franco), who turns out to be the son of hornet leader Hank (Andy McPhee), the bees’ sworn enemy. When the Queen’s special honey goes missing, a potential war between bees and hornets is on the cards, threatening the whole meadow. It’s down to Maya to save the day.
Anyone familiar with the storybook knows the ending. Those who don’t can guess it straightaway. However, the Studio 100-Flying Bark Productions 3D film has a slight spin on the original 1922 tale’s battle, perhaps bringing it up to date with more peace-seeking times. The rest is a fairly average but charming affair and less of an assault on the adult senses than the hyperactive big-studio offerings.
As Maya aims squarely for the younger, pre-teen market, it is quite innocuous in nature, even in its gag-telling, so there are no real double entendres for the grown-ups to snigger at. It’s a cuddly old-fashioned family flick with all the harm of Mary Poppins – and comes complete with musical numbers, thanks to its very own Cockney character.
Like all family films, it is stuffed with morals, from being yourself and striving to be the very best, to being tolerant of others. In an animation with far less detail in frame to marvel at (except some of the vivid sky palettes), it’s more obvious too. This is almost to the detriment of more thrills, which younger kids do come to expect nowadays with such a feature. With the studios’ ending tweak of the original tale, the prior build-up seems short-lived and flat in favour of being on message yet again.
Still, Maya is button-nosed cute and a positive female lead. Gillies does well to bring her alive and buzzing with confidence and youthful curiosity, while the irony is not lost having Weaver, Animal Kingdom’s malevolent mother, voicing an equally villainous character in Buzzlina.
Maya the Bee is a nice, safe, simplistic cinematic homage to Bonsels’ character. While Maya might be remembered for her sunny-yellow, can-do attitude, the rest can’t necessarily be said about the particulars of the film. There have been too many other insects making their mark on screen for this one to really take flight – even though the Maya doll merchandise handed out on the day was a massive hit.