We’re going to start this review with a story:
Once upon a time, there was an animation studio called Disney. They had two movie ideas green lit to move forward, and two animation teams upon which to bestow them. One project was given high regards. It was said that this movie was going to be the follow up to Beauty and the Beast; this movie was going to be the crowning jewel in the Disney canon, and it would be nominated for a best picture award, and it would WIN. This project was given to Team A – the best animators at Disney. Team B got the second project – still a movie, but not held in such high regard.
One of these movies was The Lion King. The other was Pocahontas. Can you guess which is which? Hint: It’s not what you think.
That’s right. Everyone at the studios thought Pocahontas was going to be the bigger hit. It was in development for 5 years before it came to theaters. As everyone knows, this movie was a hit, but had it’s fair share of criticisms (it’s also the only “rotten” Disney movie during the renaissance on Rotten Tomatoes at 56%).
So what happened? LOTS OF THINGS. Yes that’s right. We’re going to rant in this review. Which is actually sort of funny because when it came out, I liked this movie. I have proof:
I feel like at this point in my childhood, I just assumed all Disney movies were going to be good, so I figured this one was too. I knew it wasn’t historically correct, but it didn’t anger me. Oh kids. We’ll watch anything.
This was Disney’s first attempt at a movie based on history. The story of Pocahontas, how I remember it from school, goes like this: Settlers came to Virginia and started up Jamestown. The natives were skeptical, but the chief’s daughter Pocahontas was known for wandering into the settlement and seeing what they were up to. It’s said that Pocahontas taught John Smith things to help them survive, and a friendship was struck.
Now what everyone remembers is that at some point John Smith was captured by the Natives and his face was going to get crushed in with a hammer-thing, and Pocahontas came and laid her head on his, telling her father to stop.
So this movie…. ohhhhh this movie. Pretty much just forget everything I just told you, because Disney took major liberties with this one….
Now I am willing to forgive a few things. Because in fact we didn’t know how old Pocahontas really was when John Smith first met her. Different accounts have her at different ages. But those ages are not 16-19. Those ages are 8-12. Oh Disney – why do you have to turn everything into a love story??
I get what they were trying to do. They were trying to get this big story about how people are all just the same and differences shouldn’t matter, blah blah blah. In all honesty… if they had done an original story with that idea or made this based on fiction, it would have been better. The fact they’re calling this Pocahontas and it’s nothing to do with the real story is crap. I wonder how many people in the world now think that this is really what happened. *face palm*
The story is screwed up, but it had good intentions, so it’s honestly not the thing I actually hate the most about this movie. There are oh so many to choose from. Where shall I start?
First of all – THERE ARE NO CLIFFS IN VIRGINIA. Now again, I know what they were going for. This movie and its backgrounds are super artsy. In all honesty the backgrounds are beautiful. They were going for style like Sleeping Beauty. I get that. But here’s how it doesn’t work. Sleeping Beauty had all those angles in the backgrounds as well as the characters. Here, it’s just the backgrounds that are sweeping and angular. While the characters are beautifully drawn (actually some of Disney’s most realistic looking people), they’re not angular. They almost don’t fit their own background. therefore, things like this…
… end up looking out of place. This was one of my mother’s qualms with the movie when we went to see it, and I never understood why she was upset. Now I do, and it’s legit. Again, they’re screwing with the story. Why? Was there any reason? Or did they just need somewhere big and dramatic for the goodbye? (maybe the animators from The Lion King showed them Pride Rock and they went “Oh! We need something like that too!)
As I said, the rest of the animation is actually beautiful. The stylized backgrounds really are pretty, but it’s almost like they went overboard. Where they didn’t, however, was on Grandmother Willow. A CGI character face and she looked absolutely awesome. While that doesn’t seem like much now, you have to remember this movie came out in 1995. That was the same year Toy Story did. Before that, no one really knew how much CGI could do, so the use of it in this movie was kinda groundbreaking. Looking back on it now, if you try really hard you can tell it’s CGI, but they did a good job.
The animation on the rest of our characters is pretty good too. They all look pretty realistic (even if I think they made John Smith look like a girl…). But dear sweet lord. Does any actual human being have the measurements of Pocahontas? I mean really? And how in the hell are her lips so red? I’m sorry Disney, but this was supposed to be a little girl and you turned it into a sex symbol. She doesn’t even look Native American! She looks Asian! I had a friend in elementary school who was Chinese. We called her Pocahontas when this came out because their faces were extremely similar. Seriously Disney. Just… stop. I don’t know how I’ll forgive you.
I have a few more issues with this movie before I talk about some of the few saving graces. First is our villain, Ratcliffe. Voiced by David Ogden Stiers (aka: Cogsworth), they try to paint this guy as a man at the end of his rope, greedy and coming to Virginia for gold. He makes the men dig like crazy to find it, and when the Natives are around, talks the others into thinking they’re hiding it/they’re evil, etc. Simply put, Ratcliff belongs in a mental institution.
He does. He’s greedy and self-centered. BUT…. he’s a forced villain. This movie was supposed to be all about the two sides and two types people viewing each other with misunderstanding. That’s where their distrust for each other comes from. We would have had that without Ratcliff, and it probably would have made for a better movie. Without having someone play the paranoid person, the actions of each alone or the unknown of each side could have fueled hatred. That’s kinda how they played it on the Natives’ side. Someone got shot, fear was instilled, and suddenly they have to be destroyed. Why did we need this whole gold thing??? Personally, I think they ruined the movie with Ratcliffe.
My other HUGE qualm with this movie is the way they went about conveying their message. It’s a good message to convey, but Disney literally POUNDED US OVER THE HEAD WITH IT. Beauty and the Beast assumed its audience was smart. It used characters to convey the message. The Lion King had words of advice, but they were given to the main character, who needed to understand them like we did. Pocahontas uses phrases like “they’re different from us, which means they can’t be trusted,” just randomly. They just say them. Not to anyone, but typically in a song. They really want us to know this message, and it gets kinda tiring. It’s almost like they were trying to fill this movie with entirely wise quotable phrases. It gets annoying.
One part where they actually did the message right was the whole storyline with Meeko and Percy. These two don’t talk, they’re at odds and hate each other for no reason other than ignorance. But then something happens that frightens one, and the other comes to his aid. Without words, these two managed to show the whole idea of this movie: Acceptance. And they did it so much better than any other speech or song ever could.
Some other smaller issues/funny things about this movie I dislike:
~ The scene where Pocahontas meets John Smith and she runs away her canoe. She doesn’t understand him, then she listens with her heart and suddenly she can speak english???? Meeko and flit are like “WTF??” I would be too guys. I would be too.
~same scene: NO ONE can jump that high into a tree.
~There are a LOT of songs in this movie. Like… a lot. 13 minutes into the movie we’d already had 4 songs. 26 minutes in we were on song #6 (I was keeping track). This normally wouldn’t be a bad thing for me, but this is kinda overkill. There are tons of reprises and part 2’s. Some are good, but it’s just… there’s a lot.
So what do I like about this movie? Doesn’t seem like much, but let’s see if I can find some stuff.
~ First off, I actually adore the character of Grandmother Willow. She’s a good role model for Pocahontas and is a good embodiment of some of the beliefs Native Americans hold. She plucky and wise.
~Meeko, Percy, & Flit. For me, they are what saves this movie. The humor with them (especially Meeko) is very well done, especially given the fact they can’t talk.
~While I complain about the number of songs, I actually do enjoy a few of them. Colors of the Wind is a message filled song, but it’s sung to someone instead of the audience. John Smith needs to learn these lessons, which is why I don’t count it as someone pounding me over the head to realize that I have to treat the earth better. My personal favorite from this movie, though is either “Just around the river bend” (I enjoy the off beat syncopation and weirdness that goes with this song musically), or the first part of “Savages.”
I want to talk about this last one, “Savages.” They totally copped out by changing the words… seriously. The movie and the soundtrack have different words because they originally thought the words were too “racist.” I’m sorry, but the original words showed the hatred that burned in Ratcliffe’s heart toward the Natives. It’s not like Thomas or the other guys were saying these words. The whole point was that this is how they viewed them. IT’S NOT RACIST. Especially because we, the viewers, know that he’s in the wrong, and what he’s saying isn’t true.
~The song during the credits (which was similar to “Human again” in Beauty and the Beast: written and cut out then added back in horribly on the re-release). “If I never knew you” is a great song. My older sister played it constantly on the piano.
~The Animation. Other than the cliffs. Seriously. Look at this:
That’s not a lot. I remember I almost didn’t buy this movie when it came out on DVD, but I went ahead and did it anyway. I don’t hate this movie, but I don’t love it either. Maybe it’s nostalgia, because this movie really isn’t that great. It would have been interesting to see what they would have done if they had kept Pocahontas her real age and done more a father/daughter type relationship with John Smith (who was also older…).
I’ve heard someone call this movie pretentious, and I kinda have to agree. The confidence drips off every frame in this movie. You can’t help but see it and almost dislike the movie because of it. Disney was right: They could have had another oscar worthy hit… if they had cut down on the “pounding messages over our head” thing. If they had made it more realistic. We don’t need a love story like this to get the message of acceptance through the heads of the audience.
And in the end, I much prefer Kiara’s speech from Lion King 2 to Pocahontas’s…. that’s sad. Score 1 point for Disney Sequels.
I give Pocahontas (1995) a 2.9 out of 5.
Up Next: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)