With cinemas in England, Wales and Scotland finally back open today (Monday 17th May), parents will no doubt be checking the listings for a family film to reorient little ones with the big screen. Options are sparse, but there’s one that stands out: Maya the Bee: The Golden Orb, the new release from Lionsgate that follows the eponymous bee in her plant-based setting. While it’s not on the level of Pixar or Dreamworks, it’s a charming enough adventure that’ll keep little ones entertained, even if adults might check their watches once in a while.
The Golden Orb takes undeniable inspiration from other family-aimed bug films, like Pixar’s A Bug’s Life and Dreamworks’ Bee Movie. It follows Maya and her hapless friend Willi, as they obtain a golden orb destined to bring peace to a colony of ants, who are being harassed by a group of brash beetles, known as Boom Bugs. Accidentally abandoning their hive, Maya and Willi take care of the orb — and its adorable contents — to return it to its ant homeland, but not without some bumps in the road, including a blustery insect market, a mini waterfall, and pursuing beetle forces.
Of course, it’s not a story that blazes new ground, but it bounces along pretty much as you’d expect. All the staples of child-friendly fodder are here: a feel-good message of friendship and doing the right thing, some syrupy musical numbers, and plenty of slapstick jokes that’ll eke out a smile even in the parents. It’s not Pixar-level, but the animation is pleasant, with lush blues and whites in the frost-laden plants around the bees’ hive. Equally, there are some clever design cues — with each hexagon within the hive comprising a bee’s bed — which creates a world that’s visually rich enough to keep little ones glued to the screen.
The film works best when it plays to the strengths of its concept. There aren’t many other films where the presence of a robin or a newborn chick will send chills down the spine of our heroes, but it’s this sort of charm that makes The Golden Orb tick. It knows its audience and knows what works, especially in how the characters are written – with Willi’s cowardice and willingness to go home contrasting Maya’s headstrong courage to very good effect. Slapstick works well too, with the two ants that accompany the bees on their adventure providing more than a couple of chuckle-worthy moments.
Of course, it’s unlikely that you’re going to watch Maya the Bee: The Golden Orb without a child in tow – and it’s important to know that for those over the age of ten, this isn’t really geared towards you. The plot is a little too antiquated, without any real nuance or development, and none of the jokes even approach Disney’s levels of winks and nudges to adult viewers. The film firmly has little ones at the forefront of its appeal, and on that front, it certainly gets the job done. There’s enough bright colours, likeable characters and musical numbers to hold the attention span of even the most app-obsessed infant, and as a reintroduction to the big screen after so much time away, it certainly hits that spot. Adult viewers may not gain too much from it, but Maya the Bee: The Golden Orb succeeds in its goal of keeping kids happy for just under 90 minutes.
Maya The Bee: The Golden Orb will be in UK Cinemas from 17th May.