Week 33: Pocahontas

Disney’s Attempt at History

Riverbend

Originally Released: 1995

Pocahontas was going to be a home run. It was a guaranteed smash success. People wouldn’t be able to resist the story based on real people in American history. This was the feeling going around the studios when the movie was being pitched. Disney also had many beautiful pieces of art at the meeting which was set up for the filmmakers to choose between working on Pocahontas and The Lion King. Most of the top personnel was sold on this idea and chose to work on Pocahontas.

Disney's Romeo and Juliet, or West Side Story. How could this possibly go wrong?

Disney’s Romeo and Juliet, or West Side Story. How could this possibly go wrong?

It is interesting to see in hindsight the difference between The Lion King and Pocahontas. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things to like about Pocahontas, but in a way it has a bit of a forced feel to it, as if the filmmakers were trying too hard to make this the next Beauty and the Beast. In contrast, nobody expected The Lion King to end up as good as it did (that’s a story with a good moral in it all by itself).

"Colors of the Wind" is beautiful-looking and beautiful-sounding. It's definitely a high point of the movie.

“Colors of the Wind” is beautiful-looking and beautiful-sounding. It’s definitely a high point of the movie.

On the positive side, Pocahontas boasts a beautiful art style and great animation. I enjoyed the color palette with its greens, blues and purples. It felt different and was an interesting choice. Animator Glen Keane (who animated Ariel, the golden eagle, and Beast) did another superb job in this film with his animation of lead character Pocahontas. Others did a great job as well.

Disney once again collaborated with Alan Menken for the music, and once again he created an excellent score. His work here would win him another two academy awards for best musical score (which was his 4th win for musical score in as many films while at Disney) and for best song in “Colors of the Wind”. For the songs, Menken teamed up with lyricist/composer Stephen Schwartz (of Wicked fame). They were an effective duo. The good songs in Pocahontas are REALLY good. In fact, I think “Colors of the Wind” is so beautifully sung and orchestrated in the movie that I question why it was even necessary to get a pop version for the ending credits. I prefer the Julie Kuhn version much more than Vanessa Williams’ rendition. But although most songs are amazing, there is also a stinker or two in the lot. As a whole, though, I really enjoy the sounds of Pocahontas.

The meeting scene. I thought it was extremely well done.

The meeting scene. I thought it was extremely well done.

There are also some things I don’t like too much about the movie. Despite being based on history, in true Disney fashion the filmmakers strayed far from the source material in order to tell the story they wanted. If it is a history lesson they wanted to combine into the entertainment, they failed miserably at doing so (though this is not a big deal if this is understood upfront by the viewer). Pocahontas also suffers from a bad case of political correctness. That’s about all I’ll say on that front, though.

Everybody knows that the pale man is a scourge to humanity, only interested in killing innocent women and children and destroying the earth itself...

Everybody knows that the pale man is a scourge to humanity, only interested in killing innocent women and children and destroying the earth itself…

"You there! I want you to organize a team to slaughter men, women, and children and to desecrate the land! No, wait. First we have to sing "dig and dig and diggity dig" whilst we prance about with spades. Then we will continue with our devilish ways."

“You there! I want you to organize a team to slaughter men, women, and children and to desecrate the land! No, wait. First we have to sing “dig and dig and diggity dig” whilst we prance about with spades. Then we will continue with our devilish ways.”

Pocahontas is also the first film in the Disney renaissance that starts to feel a little formulaic with its structure and characters. For example, in Aladdin, Abu felt like he was actually a contributing character. But in Pocahontas, the animal characters Meeko, Flit, and Percy feel like nothing more than obligatory cuddly comic relief whose sole existence is to keep the children entertained. It seems that Disney’s search to find the secrets to its earlier successes led them to some conclusions. However, some of the elements in Pocahontas would suggest that perhaps they were barking up the wrong (willow?) tree in this search.

Before he was fighting criminals in Gotham City, Christian Bale was fighting Indians in Jamestown. This incident is likely what caused him to establish his no-killing rule as the Caped Crusader. The guilt must have been too much for him to handle.

Before he was fighting criminals in Gotham City, Christian Bale was fighting Indians in Jamestown. This incident is likely what caused him to establish his no-killing rule as the Caped Crusader. The guilt must have been too much for him to handle.

In the end, Disney may not have been able to make history with this film about true history, but I think the positives outweigh the negatives, and I can sit and enjoy Pocahontas despite its flaws. That being said, I’m not against parody and teasing Disney’s films. To finish this post, have a look at three great Youtube videos that all use stuff from the film (I discovered these on the Facebook page of my friends from “Rediscovering the Magic with Rick and Friends.” I’d recommend anyone who wants a Disney-themed laugh to check it out). The videos can be found here, here and here.

Climax

John Smith

Blue River

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3 thoughts on “Week 33: Pocahontas

  1. The most boring film (maybe tied with “Fantasia”) in the entire Disney Canon, in my opinion!

  2. Conrado Falco says:

    Hey I am doing a Disney Canon project too over at cocohitsny.wordpress.com, I’m about to write about The Lion King… I hope you continue and finish this, I like your writing very much

    • John says:

      Thanks Conrado! I do plan on finishing the project, despite the hiatus. It may not be until December that I will really hit it hard, though. I’m hoping to get at least one more post this holiday week.

      Thanks for sharing your link! It is always fun to read another person’s perspective on these topics.

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