Maya The Bee: The Golden Orb


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Maya The Bee: The Golden Orb
"There are some truly egregious puns, which some (mostly adult) viewers will despair of whilst other (mostly younger) viewers will consider to be the best thing ever."

It's that time of year. Spring is in the air, flowers are beginning to bloom and sleepy little bees are beginning to wake up. Maya the Bee may have made her first appearance in 1924 but thanks to the magic of fiction she's still only seven, with a seven-year-old's enthusiasm for making ever day a fresh adventure. This enthusiasm is not shared by everybody else in the hive, however, and when she creates havoc in the process of trying to wake them up and kick off the nectar-gathering season, the Queen decides she's had enough. If Maya can't change, she and her best friend, Willy, will be separated.

What's the answer to this? "No more adventures," pleads Willy (voiced by Benson Jack Anthony), but Maya (Coco Jack Gillies) just can't resist. When she hears an ant in trouble out in the meadow, she rushes to his aid. He's carrying an important piece of treasure - the golden orb of the title - but he's injured and being hunted by large, hulking broom bugs, so Maya agrees to carry out his mission for him (with Willy's help, of course). The orb, however, is not what it seems (there's a clue in the fact that it's not really orb shaped) and when it breaks open to reveal a baby ant princess, the seriousness of the quest reveals itself.

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The Maya the Bee films are German-Australian co-productions and broom bugs have a bit of a history in Australia which viewers elsewhere may be unfamiliar with. Introduced in an effort to control broom, which became a weed shortly after it was introduced (the history of the continent is full of such tales), they became seriously disruptive to local ecosystems themselves. Here we see them at war with ants. Their leader believes that if the ants lose their princess then they will fall into disarray and be easy to defeat.

The real life broom bug story has a happier ending than most of its ilk, with the Australian ecosystem eventually adapting to accommodate them, and this - as you might expect, given the age group it's aimed at - is ultimately a story about different kinds of insect learning to live together. This is thanks in part to the princess herself, who has a kind heart and exudes cuteness, acquiring the name Smoosh. Along the way there are lots of adventures which require our heroes to be brave, resourceful and supportive of one another. Although she's good at the first two, Maya has a strong personality and a tendency to overrule people without even thinking about their ideas or needs. This provides a good opportunity for children to learn that it's possible to hurt people without meaning to, and to recognise that quiet, less confident people may also have important contributions to make.

Some aspects of the film are a bit hit and miss. A pair of comedy ant sidekicks, Arnie and Barney (voiced by Australian comic double act the Umbilical Brothers), are so bland that they do little more than take up space and slow the film down. The broom bugs are also underdeveloped, and though one of them gradually develops a personality, her colleagues remain little more than cardboard cut-out villains. Their muscularity, their angry faces and the way they loom over the screen may frighten small children but older ones will find the tension lacking. A scene in which our heroes are trapped in a cave, however, could be quite unsettling for older kids too and require extra hugs and talking afterwards.

The humour in the film is at its best when it's allowed to emerge from circumstance rather than being patched in. There are some truly egregious puns, which some (mostly adult) viewers will despair of whilst other (mostly younger) viewers will consider to be the best thing ever. The animation isn't as inventive as in Maya's previous outings but there's still a lot to enjoy, and Smoosh will appeal to viewers of all ages. Though it doesn't necessarily have the staying power to help you cope when your little ones demand to watch it five times a week, there's enough here to ensure a mutually enjoyable experience at least the first time round.

Maya The Bee: The Golden Orb will be in UK cinemas from 17 May.

Reviewed on: 06 May 2021
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When Maya, a headstrong little bee, and her best friend Willi, rescue an ant princess they find themselves in the middle of an epic bug battle that will take them to strange new worlds and test their friendship to its limits.
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Director: Noel Cleary

Writer: Adrian Bickenbach, Noel Cleary

Starring: Coco Jack Gillies, Benson Jack Anthony, Frances Berry, Christian Charisiou

Year: 2021

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: Germany, Australia


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