Pocahontas (1995)

DailyView: Day 130, Movie 203

In the 1990s, Disney Animation was in a heyday. With the successes of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King, the studio was on a roll. Next up, Disney took a swing at some history, bringing a highly fictionalized story of the real Pocahontas and John Smith to the big screen.

While the animation continued to be at a high level of beauty, much of the film Pocahontas was quite a step down.

John Smith (Mel Gibson) arrived in the New World with his ship’s crew, led by the greedy Governor Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers), whose main concern was discovery of gold. As they were constructing the settlement of Jamestown, Smith meets the daughter of an Algonquin chief named Pocahontas (Irene Bedard) and falls in love with the beautiful Indian girl.

Pocahontas had the rebellious spirit, disobeying her father Chief Powhatan (Russell Means), and searching out advice from her grandmother Willow (Linda Hunt), who was a spirit in a tree.

As the tensions continued to rise between the Indians and the white men, Pocahontas and John Smith became closer.

There were a lot of problems with this movie. First, the story itself was sparse. It was nothing that we hadn’t seen before. In fact, there were plenty of beats in Pocahontas that were near copies of earlier Disney movies. The relationship between John Smith and Pocahontas sprung up out of nowhere and became very deep before you knew it. I did not buy the relationship on any deeper level than the initial fascination.

The music of the film was downright boring. There were two exceptions. The Color of the Wind was to become the most well known of the songs in Pocahontas, but it lacked the magic of other Disney classics. The other standout song was Savages, which stood out because I swear, it was an exact copy of The Mob Song from Beauty and the Beast. As I was watching the section including Savages, I was struck how identical the scene and the song were.

Pocahontas was one of the first Disney movies to have the sidekick animal characters not be able to speak. The racoon, the dog, the hummingbird, all had the same type of personification, but the lack of voices made them easily dismissible.

The film is very short and, although it does have some moments of true artistry in the visuals, the rest of the film is very troubling. I have not even gotten into the controversial story elements dealing with Indians or how Pocahontas was turned into such a sexualized being. These issues exist but a better movie would have helped to minimize them. Unfortunately, this was at best a middling effort from the House of Mouse.

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