From Good Friday, Maya the Bee flies over the poppy meadow with new theme music and in 3D. And look: she’s thin. Too thin?
With pink cheeks and an eighties hairstyle: the new Maya the Bee. Image: dpa
Beautiful childhood memories are not to be trifled with. You don’t want to give them back. Maya the Bee, for example. She was funny and cheeky and a great Sunday boredom killer. And she was, well, fat.
Which you never really noticed. But now ZDF has dared to go through the sacred halls of collective television memory a bit with the feather duster. And in doing so, provoked a real little outcry: Maya the Bee is going 3-D. And: thin!
Or rather: thinner. Starting on Good Friday, Maja will once again fly over the public television poppy meadow in 78 new, barely twelve-minute episodes – and the tummy of the now computer-animated Maja is still delicately rounded, naturally not quite enough for a wasp waist.
But it was enough for the Suddeutsche Zeitung in Munich to be appalled by "Bulimia at the honey pots, modern slimming mania on public television. "Germany’s next Top Model" (Spiegel Online) and "The fat years are over" (from Austria: Der Standard) echoed back from the media landscape. On the web, shocked "Huchs!" along with before-and-after evidence pictures of Maja spilled from blog to blog.
The excitement long before the start of the new episodes on Friday seemed to have impressed even Barbara Biermann, head of ZDF’s main editorial department for children and youth. Maya the Bee was to be given a "new value" through the 3-D animation and the "changed look," she said into the silence after the press screening.
The big head, the round googly eyes, which have now also been given a color, namely blue: "Cuter and more modern" was how they wanted to visualize the new Maya, explained producer Patrick Elmendorff. And Biermann said, almost apologetically, "Maybe at some point it was just time to think the never-thought-of, to dare the unexpected."
Way back in the day: Maya the Bee was invented by the writer Waldemar Bonsels. Even as a child, he is said to have been interested in the nature around his birthplace of Ahrensburg in Schleswig-Holstein, and "Maya the Bee and Her Adventures" was published in 1912.
The day before yesterday: Maya the Bee premiered as an animated film in 1976. ZDF produced two seasons with 52 episodes each until 1980 together with the Austrian ORF, which were last repeated on the children’s channel Ki.Ka until 2012. Maya the Bee has been exported to 147 countries and translated into 30 languages.
Brand new: 78 new stories have now been created in 3-D, a co-production of ZDF with the French TV channel TV1. The theme song previously sung by Karel Gott is now sung by Helene Fischer. On Good Friday, starting at 8:35 a.m., there will be a 35-minute "kick-off special" as part of "50 Years of ZDF." After that, always on Sundays, 7.05 a.m. on ZDF and at 6.15 p.m. as a double episode on Ki.Ka.
Slim is beautiful
The never thought: There are a few sacred cows in German children’s television, Maya the Bee is one of them, whoever touches her needs courage. And when things get emotional, even reasonable arguments – you can only restore film material that’s over 30 years old to a limited extent, says Biermann – don’t necessarily help.
That’s why it’s easy to join in the scolding when it comes to the thin debate. After all, there have already been enough underweight potential identification figures ("Top Model," "Model-WG," "Das perfekte Model") on private television in the recent past. And now comes the public children’s television (educational mandate! Our tax money!) and suggests even to the youngest at preschool age: slim is beautiful?
In all the excitement, we forget about the children. Does Maja’s hip size, whether consciously or unconsciously, play any role at all for them in identifying with the character? That may be different with human cartoon girls, but with a (admittedly talking, humanized) bee?
In any case, the slimmer bee is not intended to be educational, says Biermann. And: "Thin is always relative, and in this case it’s probably mainly a comparison with the first Maja. The comparison to the past is only made by the adults – who, by the way, have apparently found it okay that the 2-D Maja became noticeably slimmer in the course of the two old seasons.
The thin discussion is anyway only a placeholder for another debate. Because the horror of the adult Maja fans about the slimmer computer bee is nothing more than the conservative reflex to first find everything suspicious that makes long-loved things new. Don’t touch the heroes of our childhood! If you look beyond children’s television, there was the recent heated debate about now racist or simply outdated terms in classic children’s books: "Negro" in "Pippi Longstocking" and "Jim Knopf," "wank" instead of "beat" in Otfried Preubler’s "Die kleine Hexe. Is it permissible, and how much is it permissible, to take away from something to make it more correct?
The corn poppy meadow
The balancing act between preservation and renewal: "We wanted to preserve the recognition value of the stories and the characters at all costs. We tried to transfer the spirit of the old Maya the Bee to today," explains producer Elmendorff. In other words, in addition to the 3-D look, the storytelling is now faster, or "more dynamic," as Elmendorff puts it.
The new episodes are only about half as long as the old ones, which lasted almost 30 minutes. It has been discovered that the attention span of preschool children is shorter than previously assumed, says Elmendorff.
What has remained is the world of the corn poppy, just as the characters have remained the same in their nature: The curious Maja (voiced by Zalina Sanchez), who prefers to live according to her own rules in the meadow rather than in the beehive, the sleepy-eyed drone Willi (Gerd Meyer), the super-teachy grasshopper Flip (Hans-Jurgen Dittberner), the droll and evil spider Thekla (Beate Gerlach).
And the new stories are also about friendship and courage, about daring to do something and being there for others. In the episode "Der Mistkugelwettbewerb" ("The Dung Ball Competition") shown in advance, dung beetle Ben – one of about a handful of newly added characters – wants to win said competition with a particularly beautifully rolled ball. The really very pregnant fly Lilly (contractions in a blowfly, also quite entertaining for the adult viewer) needs "Balli" but more urgently, for her eggs. In the end, of course, selflessness wins, and Ben wins, only differently.
Well-told stories, coherent characters: that’s what matters in the end, says Biermann. "3-D in itself is not an end in itself." But once you stop squinting at the new Maja’s waist, it’s simply a lot of fun. Whereas you could "only" watch the old episodes, now you’re flying behind them, right through the grass jungle. And isn’t that exactly what you always wanted to do when you were about five years old?
One child, of all people, couldn’t understand why the adults were all so upset about the slimmed-down bee. Twelve-year-old Zalina Sanchez looked visibly confused at the press screening when asked what she thought of the fact that the bee was now thin. She frowned and said that, to be honest, she hadn’t really noticed. But did she think it mattered? Yes. For the adults.