Much of modern-day media finds inspiration in the reinvention of tropes, themes, and fables from classical mythology. While Greek and Roman myths have been well explored, there are worlds of rich lore we’ve yet to experience. It was with some of these underappreciated legends in mind that director Jorge R. Gutiérrez found inspiration for his new animated series, “Maya and the Three.”
This adventurous Netflix original tells the story of prophetic sacrifice, vengeful gods, mystical warriors, and family forged along the way.
Maya’s story is based on the legends of pre-colonial Mexico and its Indigenous cultures. Based heavily on the Maya civilization, the series is set in the fictional Mesoamerican kingdom of Teca. Gutiérrez describes the epic series as a “hyper, hyper, hyper love letter to Mexican culture and to the ancient culture of Mesoamerica, the Caribbean and a little bit of South American culture.” We’re introduced to the Teca princesa Maya (voiced by Zoe Saldaña) on the cusp of her quinceañera. However, her fifteenth birthday unexpectedly comes with a very surreal problem. Lord Mictlan, the God of War (voiced by Alfred Molina), and the other Underworld Gods have called upon the warrior princess to appear before them and receive their judgement. Knowing her refusal will doom the world, Maya sets out on a quest to find three warriors to fulfill an ancient prophecy.
Together with Rico the Rooster Wizard (voiced by Allen Maldonado), Chimi the Skull Warrior (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz), and Picchu the Puma Barbarian (voiced by Gabriel Iglesias), Maya is on a quest to save humanity from the wrath of the gods.
Gutiérrez often describes “Maya and the Three” as a Mexican “Lord of the Ring” with a good mix of humor.
According to the director, Indigenous art from the Museo Nacional de Antropologia helped bring historical influence to the mythological world. The ornate character designs of the heroes and Gods are reminiscent of Maya statues. Viewers will also recognize Gutiérrez ‘s unique art style, made familiar by his past projects “The Book of Life” and “El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera.” While Mesoamerican art and Gutiérrez ‘s distinctive aesthetic inspire the look of “Maya and the Three,” pop culture also provides a significant frame of reference for its many intense action scenes. Martial Arts classics like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Kill Bill,” and “Street Fighter 2” served as inspiration in depicting the battles between heroes and Gods. Gutiérrez also utilizes a cast of ultra-talented Latine actors to give his characters life.
All these elements combine to make “Maya and the Three” a dynamic and original story full of drama, adventure, and heart.
Although drama and adventure make the series endlessly entertaining, its heart is what will leave viewers utterly in love with “Maya.”
Love—especially familial love—is the very core of “Maya and the Three.” When speaking about the inspiration for Maya at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, Gutiérrez explained that the character was based on the strong women in his life: his wife (character designer and voice actor Sandra Equihua), his mother, and his sister. The director shared, “I wanted to create something to honor all the warrior women that I grew up with. These are the pillars in my family.”
So, it’s only fitting that family is a major recurring theme of this animated adventure. To begin with, it’s parental indiscretion that propels Maya into her mystical adventure. The loss of family and the struggle to find one’s place in the world after also influences each hero’s storyline. Additionally, the commitment to protect one’s family above all else also provides conflict and growth for several characters.
Our heroes aren’t the only ones who have the ties of family. The Underworld Gods, for all of their malevolent intent, also express devotion to their familial bonds. When confronting Maya on her quest, the God of Earthquakes, Cabrakan, and the Goddess of Alligators, Cipactli, (voiced by Danny Trejo and Rosie Perez respectively) prioritize their marriage over defeating the warrior princess. Camazotz, God of Bats (voiced by Joaquín Casio), also defies the actual God of War in order to protect his son Zatz, prince of Bats (voiced by Diego Luna). Lord Mictlan himself also holds a special place for his family. The only one able to sway the God of War is his wife Lady Micte, the Goddess of Death (voiced by Kate del Castillo). Seeing a powerful entity like Lord Mictlan so influenced by his family reaffirms just how significant that bond can be.
Ultimately, one’s ability to reconcile blood family and found family play a heavy role
The shocking reveal of Maya’s true parentage causes her to immediately rethink her most important relationships. Our warrior princesa’s concept of family is completely shaken. Still, she inadvertently creates a found family as she adds each new member to her party of legendary warriors. Maya leaves Teca with only her companion, Chiapa, and a quest. But, she returns with a bonded group of friends willing to sacrifice themselves for each other’s safety and happiness.
In turn, each member of Maya’s party also has their own relationship with blood family and found family. Rico has no blood relations. However, the Gran Brujo, Luna Island’s most powerful sorcerer (voiced by Wyclef Jean), adopts the young sorcerer. Because of this bond, Rico is determined to protect the Gran Brujo’s daughter, the Gran Bruja (voiced by Queen Latifah). Chimi lost her birth mother while entering the world of the living. Rejected by the villagers for her appearance, the archer instead finds family in the animal kingdom. Vucub, the God of Jungle Animals (voiced by Eric Bauza) even risks defying Lord Mictlan in to help Chimi. This selfless act proves that even the Gods form found families. Picchu loses his family in battle. As he mourns the deaths, his fellow Barbarians respectfully keep their distance while also watching out for him.
The three warriors become a family and begin to heal the wounds created by loss after they meet each other. Only through the strength created by their bonds that they are able to save humanity.
A good animated series is expected to entertain but, “Maya and the Three” does more than that.
The series introduces the vibrant legends of a culture that is often underrepresented in our story telling. It showcases themes of family and love and tells a throughly original story full of beauty, magic, fantasy, and adventure. If Jorge R. Gutiérrez ‘s plan was to write a love letter to Mexico, he did so in abundance by createing a series that will make viewers laugh, cry, and celebrate the preciousness of life, death, and the family who keep us company through both worlds.