Here’s some trivia for you: there was a moment in the early ’90s when the Walt Disney Animation Studios was in the process of producing 2 movies. One of them was supposed to be the picture that everyone would care about. It would be the film everyone in the world would love and go crazy over. The other was the “B Movie,” the film that no one would care about. Even some of the animators and designers on this “B Movie” found moments where they wanted to work on the other picture. Who knew that the “B Movie” would be the film everyone raved about? What was that movie? Why, it was The Lion King of course! And we all know what a success that film was, and still is! It was the highest grossing animated film and movie period for Disney at the time, and it is still the highest grossing traditionally animated movie of all time, making over $987 million all over the world! So, then, if that was the “B Movie,” what was the film that everyone was supposed to care about? THIS film, of course! Yeah, how about that! Disney thought Pocahontas was going to beat out The Lion King! While it certainly wasn’t a financial or critical failure upon its release, this film definitely wasn’t the commercial success Disney was hoping for, and it wasn’t as successful as the earlier films in the Disney Renaissance either. Why? Well, that’s what we’re here to find out.
ANIMATION: This is one of the best elements of the movie. The look of the film and the design of the landscapes are beautiful! Virginia looks amazing! It’s something straight out of a painting! It’s just gorgeous to look at! The design of the people is also very unique for Disney. They look a lot more realistic. The eyes aren’t as big, and we don’t even see their outlines. Sometimes they look awkward, but most of the time they look rather nice.
SONGS/MUSIC: Fortunately, we get Alan Menken back in this flick! His score, melodies, and orchestrations do not disappoint; they hardly ever did around this time. Instead of getting lyricist Tim Rice again, we have Stephen Schwartz. His lyrics…aren’t the best. They’re very obvious. They clearly express the obvious messages and show us the obvious villains. In all honesty, though, I don’t think that’s Schwartz’s fault. You’ll have to keep reading this review to find out why I say that, but let’s just focus on the songs themselves for now.
1) The Virginia Company/(Reprise): Oh yeah, that was a thing. Man, is that forgettable!
2) Steady as the Beating Drum/(Reprise): This song was in the movie, too? Wow, that’s forgettable!
3) Just Around the Riverbend: Here we go! This is a memorable song. I say that mainly because of the melody. The song does gives us some character development. We learn what kind of person Pocahontas is. I do have to ask, though, didn’t we already get an understanding of that from frame one? From the moment we saw Pocahontas, didn’t we know what kind of person she’d be? Did this song add anything to how we perceived her character? Either way, it’s a nice song. It’s not the best, but it’s nice.
4) Listen With Your Heart I & II: Eh…it’s OK. It has a nice and memorable melody, but that’s not enough to make a good song – especially in a musical! And, honestly, I don’t know what it adds. Is the movie any better for having this song? Would you lose anything if you removed this number from the film? Probably not.
5) Mine, Mine, Mine: What makes this film sort of unique is that it has 2 villain songs. This is one of them. Of course we knew that Ratcliffe wanted gold, but he also seeks other riches and glory. He wants fame and attention. He wants to be noticed by everyone in his country. The other men are both looking for gold and they’re just doing their job. They don’t have much motivation whereas Governor Ratcliffe does. The song works.
6) Colors of the Wind: This is the film’s Number One song. It’s probably the best song in the film as well. Not only do we all remember the lyrics and the music, but the song also conveys one of the themes of the film, that we all need to have love and respect for everything and everyone that has life. I think it’s hard to make a song like this subtle, but it could have been less obvious than it was in its message. But, that’s OK. The song is still really good, and it’s not the most unsubtle song in the movie…P.S., you all know you can’t paint with the colors of the wind, right? Wind has no colors. Leaves have color, though…Just saying.
7) If I Never Knew You: I’m not too familiar with this song, and I don’t know how many people are. It was a number that was in the original draft of the film, but it was cut when they saw children didn’t respond well to it…And I can see why. What in the crud does it add? I feel like this song is here for the same reason we had “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” in The Lion King…because Disney movies have love songs! As someone who’s more familiar with the original cut of the film, I can say that this movie loses absolutely nothing by not having this song!
8) Savages, Parts 1 & 2: This is the other villain song in the film. I sort of have mixed feelings about this song. On one hand, the lyrics could not be anymore obvious. Remember how I said “Colors of the Wind” could have been more subtle? Well this song couldn’t be any less unsubtle! Listen to these words: “What did you expect?…This is what happens when races are diverse.” “Their skin’s a Hellish red…” “Beneath their milky hide, there’s emptiness inside. I wonder if they even bleed.” Yeah…Actually, what surprises me is that people claim that this song promotes racism. Really? You can listen to these lyrics and tell what the message is! It’s so obviously showing that this is where hatred brought these two groups of people. Now, despite the obvious message and lyrics, I do enjoy this song. I like seeing where hate brought them; to some degree, hate is the real villain here, not Ratcliffe. I like how these two groups who think they are so different from each other are actually the same – you see it in this song. Even though they’re singing about hate, they’re singing the same things, almost word for word. And, of course, I love hearing them chant “savages!” It’s so much fun! My sister and I chant this phrase to each other all the time! We even chant other words that sound like “savages” in the same rhythm! Next time you eat breakfast, demand for “Sausages! Sausages!” It’s so much fun! The song does get you excited for the battle and adventure the two groups are planning on having. It’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s rhythmic, it’s savages…Savages! Savages!
ROMANCE: OK, we all know the romance between Pocahontas and John Smith was fabricated for the movie, it didn’t really happen in real life. Let’s excuse that for now and look at what the movie gave us. I know that may be difficult for some people, but trust me, we’ll get to that aspect of the film later. The romance as a whole, I think, is OK. It’s not the best, but it does actually come from something. Rather than seeing John Smith and immediately falling in love with him, Pocahontas was stunned by how different he was from her. She had never seen anyone who looked like him before. Knowing how curious she is, one could conclude that she probably wanted to learn more about this person. “Why does he look so different? Are there others who look like him? Why haven’t I seen people like this before? Where is he from?” That’s where her interest in him came from. After spending time with him, then a romance developed. Part of what made this romance stupid is that it developed in, what, a day or two? But, to be fair, they do talk about their problems and they do try to help one another. One can see how a romance could spark from this. It’s not the best Disney romance, but it’s not the worst either.
CHARACTERS: Eh…let’s just get into it.
1) Nakoma and Kocoum – Let’s start with Nakoma, Pocahontas’ best friend. She’s probably the most developed character in the movie, at least as far as personality is concerned. She’s not bland or boring; she’s amusing and fun. She supports our main character. She doesn’t get in the way of the action, and she’s not annoying. I like Nakoma.
Kocoum, however, is another story. This is the man Pocahontas is supposed to marry. He’s not annoying or anything, but he is boring as tare! He’s not even bland! Bland is just a boring stereotype. He’s not a stereotype (which, don’t get me wrong, is bad); he has absolutely no personality. If you read my Lion King review, you’ll remember I said we cried for Mufasa when he died because we really got to know him. He was incredibly relatable and loveable. We got a sense of who he was. Kocoum could not be any more different. Who is this guy? What does he like? What does he like to do? What motivates him? We’re not able to answer those questions, thus we don’t cry when he dies. We may be shocked, and maybe we feel bad, but we’re certainly not sad because we don’t know anything about him…So, then…why do I still like him? Because he fights with the spirit of…A BEAR!…If you watch Nostalgia Critic (Doug Walker, 2007-Present), you know why that’s funny.
2) Meeko – I can’t stand this creature! He is annoying as crud! I hate how he keeps bothering Percy. I hate how he takes John Smith’s things. I hate how he gets in the way of what’s happening. I cannot stand him. The other animals are annoying, but they’re more annoying when Meeko’s around. I cannot stand this raccoon.
3) Governor Ratcliffe – I already talked about Ratcliffe earlier, and there’s not too much else to say. To be honest, though, I do feel sorry for him. This villain isn’t just evil for the sake of being evil. Yes, he wanted money and fame, but at the same time his motivation stemmed from a misunderstanding. I think he was so blinded by fame that he tricked himself into believing the Native-Americans were evil savages. I honestly do feel bad for him toward the end of the movie when he was gagged and tied up. If it weren’t for his misunderstanding, none of that would have happened. Does that mean he’s a great, complex villain or character? No, he’s pretty bland. But, again, he’s not the worst villain or the worst character. He does have some heart to him. He does have some development; it’s just not a lot, nor is it that interesting.
4) John Smith – I kind of laugh at how amazing this character is supposed to be. You know how a film can really push or talk up a character’s awesomeness? That’s John Smith in this film. Think about it: he flawlessly jumps off a boat, saves a man’s life, and returns to the boat in less than a minute without a scratch on him. When he was climbing a mountain and he tripped, he spontaneously found a rope to save him. This guy is unbelievable. He is a little sympathetic, and he does have his own sort of story arc. However, John Smith is so bland, there’s not a lot to say about him. I don’t like him, I don’t dislike him. If he actually had a character and not just awesome actions, I’d like him more. Although, I will say he does kind of mirror the modern stereotypical pretty White guy, doesn’t he? He comes in, he saves the day, he’s awesome, he’s good looking, but he may say something offensive that he didn’t know was offensive. The only thing that was missing from this stereotype was John Smith saying, “I’m not a racist, but…”
5) Pocahontas – I wanted to save Pocahontas for last. Not because I don’t like her or anything – on the contrary, I really do like her. Yeah she’s bland and has no character or personality, but I like her for her actions. I know that’s weird, seeing as how I just bashed John Smith, but I do like Pocahontas’ actions. It’s hard for me to explain this without talking about Ariel from The Little Mermaid. If you read my review of that film, you know I dislike Ariel with a passion. This is weird seeing how Pocahontas has no personality and Ariel does; but I don’t like Ariel’s personality. Ariel whines and complains about what she doesn’t have. Her actions are stemmed from selfish ambitions – she wants to be human. She wants a man. When she does something to get what she wants, she often hurts other people in the process. She doesn’t care that she’s causing pain for the people around her, either. She never apologized to them or did anything to make up for the pain she caused them. So long as she got what she wanted, who cares how she got there? Pocahontas’ actions, on the other hand, stemmed from a selfless, mature, and courageous ambition. She wanted to bring two different cultures together and tare down the wall of hate that stood between them. Yes, one person died as a result of her actions, but how many more people would have died if she didn’t take a stand? Again, I’m not saying Pocahontas is a good character in terms of development and interest; she’s not. But in terms of morals, ethics, and strength, I do like her. Yeah, there are moments with her when the movie is forcing her to look incredible and strong (Why did her introduction consist of her standing on a mountain waiting for wind and leaves? Why was she there to begin with?), but I can’t get over how ethical she is. She’s not the strongest, but I do love her!…P.S. What’s up with her design?!? Seriously! She’s 14-years-old, and she has a look that’ll excite a grown man! What in the world?!?
STORY: The only thing that could be weaker than the characters is the story. It is stale. It is boring. You know where it’s going to go. But let’s pretend for a minute you’re able to get past that, like I am. Is still a stupid story? Yes. Yes it is. Why? Because this film, which is based on a true story, has a number of moments that could not happen in real life. I didn’t say these moments didn’t happen in real life, I said they couldn’t happen in real life. We know that Pocahontas was 12-years-old and not 14 when these events took place. We know Pocahontas and John Smith did not share a romance. We know the historical inaccuracies of the film. However, logic dictates that these things could have happened. By logic, she could have been 14-years-old when the English settled in Virginia. By logic, she very well could have fallen in love with John Smith. These things could have happened. What CAN’T happen is your grandmother’s spirit lives in a willow tree, and two people who speak two different languages can suddenly understand each other because the plot dictates! No. That can’t happen. I understand we have to expect a certain something from Disney, but we’re trying to honor someone who really existed here! We’re trying to depict something that really happened! When you throw in a talking, magical tree and magical, colorful leaves that conflict with the wind (No, really, pay attention to how the leaves blow in this movie – that can’t be the wind moving them!), it throws the story off.
Also, remember how I said the lyrics of the song could be very, very obvious, but I didn’t blame Schwartz for that? I blame the script. Schwartz was probably writing to match the tone of the script. Listen to the dialogue in the script, and tell me it’s not obvious! Tell me you don’t immediately know what the filmmakers are doing! Tell me you don’t already know what the moral is supposed to be! When Ratcliffe tells John Smith, “This is MY land! I make the laws here,” don’t you kind of groan? When Pocahontas and John Smith are talking about the concept of “savages,” don’t you realize what the rest of the movie is going to be…if you didn’t realize it already? Didn’t you pray this film would do something different when Pocahontas’ father told her she was going to marry someone she didn’t really love and he said, “This is the path for you?” C’mon, film. You are not subtle at all! Fix yourself!
I know a lot of people take issue with the historical inaccuracies in this film. I can understand why. It is sort of insulting to the actual people involved and the events that took place. It does not educate children at all about what really happened in the early days of this country. I can understand and sympathize with why people take such issues with the inaccuracies of this film. So, then, why doesn’t that bother me so much? Well, there are 2 reasons. First of all, no movie based on something – especially a true story – is going to 100% accurate of everything that happened. The filmmakers weren’t present to totally represent what happened. Even the film that has come the closest to representing a real life event didn’t get everything right. Maybe they added a character, removed a character, changed the events, or had someone say something they did not say. Second of all, are we really going to look to Disney and Hollywood to educate our children? I know they should have taken this as an opportunity to honestly tell a story and teach history to children. However, education is not up to entertainers and movie executives. If we’re not the ones influencing and educating our children, that’s the real tragedy. If children think they know the story of the Indian princess because of this movie, that is our fault. Let’s take care of our children.
CONCLUSION: I do think this is a stupid movie. Hopefully children, and especially adults, can watch this movie and know that a great deal of it is fantasized. However, I still find myself liking this film. The animation is wonderful. The songs are memorable. Pocahontas is a good role model. This flick could have been much better, of course, but it is not Disney’s worst; and, in my opinion, it’s not the worst film the Disney Renaissance had to offer. I still enjoy the film, it’s visuals, and it’s morals. In fact, this film may be apologizing for the racist Indians from Peter Pan (Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, and Hamilton Luske, 1953). I can’t declare it a good movie, but it’s good enough to kill time.