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REVIEW” “Maya The Bee Movie”

REVIEW" "Maya The Bee Movie"

In recent years, European artists have created animated
features that were original, exciting, funny and personal in ways big-budget
American studio films weren’t: The
Triplets of Belleville
, The Secret of
, Ernest and Celestine, Song of the Sea, A Cat in Paris. Sadly, The
“Maya the Bee” Movie
(2014), an Australian/German co-production, just
repeats very familiar American-style characters and story incidents.


In Waldemar Bonsels’ original 1922 children’s book “The
Adventures of Maya the Bee,” the title character was a curious youngster who
left the hive to explore nearby gardens and meadows. Bonsel was obviously
inspired by Lewis Carroll’s “Alice” books, but he lacked Carroll’s erudition
and imagination. Freed from the constraints of the hive, Maya engaged in mildly
didactic conversations with other insects. The story took an oddly dark turn
when Maya was captured by a tribe of carnivorous hornets, but escaped to help
defend her hive from their murderous assault. The threats were real, with the
characters’ lives at stake.


The animated Maya (voice by Coco Jack Gillies) looks like a
little girl in a striped bathing suit. She and many of the characters around
her never stop talking, but that doesn’t keep Maya from exploring parts of the
hive where she doesn’t belong. Although she’s taught “Every bee has a role to
play,” after some mild misadventures, she faces the same problem as many other
spunky animated heroines: ”I don’t think I fit in anywhere.”


When she inadvertently witnesses the priggish, dictatorial
Buzzlina (Jacki Weaver) scheming with her hench-bee Crawley (Noah Taylor) to
kill the Queen (Miriam Margolyes) and seize the throne, Maya is kicked out of
the hive as a trouble-maker. Outside, Maya behaves less like Bonsels’ inquisitive
character and more like Dorothy in The
Wizard of Oz
. Everyone she meets is eager to help her. Flip the Grasshopper
(Richard Boxburgh) gets her to sing; Willy (Kodi Sit-McPhee), a nerdy little bee
whom no one else has ever treated nicely, becomes her pal.


Before they left the hive, Maya and Willy were told to beware
of hornets, whom bees regard as evil, thieving bugs. They quickly befriend
Sting (Joel Franco), the son of Hank (Andy McPhee), the boss of one of the
local hornet gangs. Sting’s been told to beware of bees, whom hornets describe
as evil “soul suckers.” Of course, Maya, Willy and Sting initially fail to
recognize who belongs to what species, but once they do, the story’s
essentially over—and the film still has a good 20 minutes to run.


Buzzlina tries to provoke a war with the hornets, but it’s a
bloodless farce, with none of the deadly consequences Bonsels described. As
anyone who’s seen an animated feature in the last few decades can predict, Maya
rallies her friends to stop the war, rescue the Queen and, above all, learn the
importance of being herself every day. The film ends with a party
where—surprise!–Hank and the Queen self-conscious dance together.

The “Maya the Bee”
isn’t excruciating the way Strange
was. But its story and characters are so very familiar, it feels like
the artists made it with a stencil. Do audiences, especially audiences of
children–Maya is clearly aimed at
elementary school viewers–need to see yet another spunky, slightly klutzy
heroine learn the value of being herself? Are children so unhappy and insecure
that they need yet another dose of heavy-handed affirmation?


One of the appeals of anime is that Japanese artists have
created such a broad spectrum of female characters. Sakura Kinimoto begins as a
frightened, uncertain little girl, but the audience sees her gain confidence as
she masters magic in Cardcaptor Sakura.
Spoiled, sulky Chihiro discovers untapped resources of courage, resolve and
love in Spirited Away. Emilia in The Devil Is a Part-Timer and Kaname in Full Metal Panic are strong, outspoken
girls who learn to appreciate the offbeat charms of unlikely guys. Shy, quiet
Hana grows into her role as a caring mother after her husband is killed in Wolf Children. Winrey in Fullmetal Alchemist is a skilled
technician who creates extraordinary robotic prostheses.


Yet American animators can’t seem to go beyond the spunky,
slightly klutzy model, and the team behind The
“Maya the Bee” Movie
followed suit. During the film, I kept remembering the
famous exchange with Ed Asner on The Mary
Tyler Moore Show

Lou: “You know what? You’ve got spunk.”

Mary: “Well, yes… “

Lou: “I hate spunk.”

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