Also released: Wholesome animated escapade Maya The Bee: The Golden Orb

Maya The Bee: The Golden Orb: Willi (voiced by Benson Jack Anthony), The Queen (Justine Clarke) and Maya (Coco Jack Gillies)
Damon Smith

MAYA THE BEE: THE GOLDEN ORB (PG, 88 mins) Animation/Adventure/Musical. Featuring the voices of Coco Jack Gillies, Benson Jack Anthony, Frances Berry, Callan Colley, Noel Cleary, David Collins, Shane Dundas, Justine Clarke, Tom Cossetini, Evie Gillies, Christian Charisiou. Director: Noel Cleary.

Released: May 17

BASED on buzzy characters from the German children's book by Waldemar Bonsels, Maya The Bee first took flight in computer-animated form as a TV series followed by a 2014 feature film for pre-schoolers.

Overarching life lessons about courage, tenacity and friendship are enforced in a jaunty third big screen instalment directed by Noel Cleary, which invites cutesy insects to burst into lyrically simplistic songs to convey their emotions.

"This here mountain's no place for ants/Against us beetles, they got no chance," croons one war-mongering bug (Christian Charisiou), who overcomes his prejudices and appreciates the power of interspecies co-operation by the time the end credits rock and roll.

Screenwriter Fin Edquist harvests sticky sentimentality when the going gets tough but lashings of emotional syrup don't prevent the solid action sequences from taking flight, including a frantic chase on a fallen leaf down eddying water.

The quality of the animation has improved since the first film but water effects aren't convincing during the river sequence and feathery plumage of a flock of hungry birds noticeably lacks realistic movement in the air.

Coco Jack Gillies continues to radiate sweetness as the voice of the humming heroine, who never thinks twice about flapping her wings to do the right thing.

Maya (Gillies) and best friend Willi (Benson Jack Anthony) cause a commotion by accidentally unleashing a slithering stampede of glow worms during preparations for the Spring Festival.

"No more of your adventures!" despairs the Queen (Justine Clarke), who orders Maya and Willi to collect buttercup sap to repair damage to the hive. When the youngsters are out of earshot, the frustrated monarch confides to her advisers that she may have to separate best friends Maya and Willi.

"It would take something very special to change my mind," coos the Queen, which a despondent Maya overhears.

During the sap-gathering sortie, Maya and Willi encounter a green ant named Chomp (Tom Cossetini), who is being chased by beetles Rumba (Frances Berry), Boof (Callan Colley) and Henchie (Cleary).

The bees take possession of the Regal Orb of Greenleaf from Chomp and pledge to carry the glittering trinket to the ant colony on Bonsai Peak via the bustling bazaar at Loggy Hollow. En route, the orb cracks and reveals a cherubic ant princess, who Willi affectionately christens Smoosh (Evie Gillies).

Maya The Bee: The Golden Orb is a wholesome escapade, pollinated by sweet vocal performances and heartfelt storytelling aimed squarely at young audiences. Comic relief courtesy of blundering red ant soldiers Arnie (David Collins) and Barney (Shane Dundas) is pitched accordingly.

When one insect nervously comments that the navy life isn't for him because he has "no sea legs", his literal sidekick is confused because he can clearly see his buddy's trembling pins.

It's a hard knock bug's life.

Rating: 2/5

Damon Smith

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