In Maya the Bee: the Golden Orb, Umbilical Brother Shane Dundas voiced an ant

Maya the Bee: the Golden Orb, 88 minutes

Australian comedy duo David Collins and Shane Dundas - better known as The Umbilical Brothers - have had a quiet year in 2020. Dundas has spent the COVID-19 period in his home town of Canberra.

But they intend to make a comeback in 2021 with live performances, marking the Umbies' 30th anniversary.

Meanwhile, they're making a comeback of another kind, returning as the voices of the ant soldiers Arnie and Barney in the third instalment of an animated film series. Maya the Bee: the Golden Orb will be released in cinemas on January 7, 2021.

Arnie and Barney are the bumbling comic relief in the film.

"They're irresponsible soldiers," Dundas says.

Arnie and Barney accompany Maya and her best friend Willi on a quest to deliver a golden orb entrusted to them by an injured messenger ant. The orb must be delivered to the ant colony on Bonsai Peak before the Boom Bugs invade.

A scene from Maya the Bee: the Golden Orb. Picture: Supplied

A scene from Maya the Bee: the Golden Orb. Picture: Supplied

Soon they discover the orb is an egg - it hatches to reveal a baby ant princess. Maya and Willi must deal with dangers such as bug bounty hunters and their own squabbles and personality clashes to complete their journey. Arnie and Barney help, and sometimes hinder, along the way.

The happy, adventurous Maya the Bee character originated in the 1912 German book The Adventures of Maya the Bee by Waldemar Bonsels. This has spawned films, TV series, stage productions and video games. The Golden Orb is a German/Australian co-production, animated in Australia and directed by Noel Cleary (Tashi). The voice cast for the new film includes Coco Jack Gillies as Maya and Benson Jack Anthony as Willi.

The script is by Fin Edquist but Collins and Dundas receive a special credit for "Additional Arnie and Barney dialogue".

Dundas says, "Personally, I thought that was a bit much" though he acknowledges, "At least half of what we said was our riffing."

He says they didn't intrude on the story or on other characters' dialogue - "We only mess with our own" - and they mostly recorded with just the two of them in the studio in three recording sessions spread over a year and a half.

David Collins, left and Shane Dundas, The Umbilical Brothers. Picture: Supplied

David Collins, left and Shane Dundas, The Umbilical Brothers. Picture: Supplied

"We had an initial read closer to the original dialogue, then we came back and played with it some more, and the third time was cleanup, fixing it up."

They would do a straight take of a section, using the words in the script, and then riff on it for a while. The tracks would be edited and the director chose the best sections to use in the film. Two and a half minutes of riffing might result in 20 seconds of included material.

Cleary would read other characters' dialogue for them to react to but one challenge was that they were not able to talk over each other so the editors would have complete freedom to edit the sound.

"They need a clean line on every line," he says - if overlapping is required it can be created. The actors would sometimes talk over each other "in your head", he says, while not doing it out loud.

The film, like its predecessors, is aimed at young children - aged from about three to nine, he says.

"It's lovely and light, warm and positive. It's not really scary - kids who are over about 10 might want to be scared a bit more."

The pace is leisurely and there plenty of positive messages. The child-friendly focus also means that unlike many animated films, there are no pop culture references or jokes directed at adults.

"We're not in Pixar land, obviously."

Dundas lives in Canberra when not performing with Collins. They met at drama school in Sydney (where Collins lives) and Dundas says The Umbilical Brothers began when they studied mime for a few weeks.

While it started as a joke, mocking the mime classes, the Umbies became their livelihood and the thing for which they are best known (Dundas occasionally does his own stand-up comedy and Collins takes on other acting roles).

Dundas says, "Various mimes throughout the world have thought we were highly trained - we're not."

They devise their own material but unlike traditional mimes they write dialogue too. Inspirations have included the TV show The Goodies and Jackie Chan.

The two men have been at it for three decades and now they are in their 50s, "it's not getting any easier," Dundas acknowledges. Still, they manage to keep going, "attitudinally and physically".

This year, of course, has been something of an exception because of coronavirus. Dundas says he's spent a lot of time reading - "I just finished the Bruce Lee biography" - taking photographs, and thinking of new material.

Dundas says that when he tells people he lives in Canberra, the most common response has been "Why?!"

These days, though, he says it's a more tempered "Why?" since the city has grown larger and more interesting over the past few decades.

Still, there have been losses as well as gains.

Some venues Dundas was fond of such as the ANU Arts Centre and Manuka's Capitol Cinema have gone.

So has the Private Bin, a nightclub he performed at where crowds could be drunken and abusive.

"You could be sent off crying."

But since those days they've become well established, popular in Europe as well as Australia and playing for a year off-Broadway as well as touring the US.

They were well received in America once they added a bit more of a storyline to appeal to the tastes of audiences there.

This year, they want to open their new show, The Distraction, which will see them performing in front of a green screen.

"It's the first time we've done a show like this."

  • Maya the Bee: The Golden Orb is now in cinemas.
This story Ad-libbing Umbies enliven bee movie first appeared on The Canberra Times.