Before we start, I want to clear the air on some things, because I had to look it up myself.
Months after the early English settlers arrived in Virginia, John Smith was captured by a hunting party (led presumably by Chief Powhatan’s younger brother), after months of setting up camp near the Native Americans. a young preteen Pocahontas, having not met John Smith before this capture, pleaded with her father to spare his life and let him go back to Jamestown. Throughout the rest of the English settlers’ stay in Virginia, Pocahontas continued to befriend the early settlers upon their arrival on their land, wanting to make peace between her people and the English to cease hatred, so she soon started spending days visiting the English at their camp, playing games with the boys, and having her friends bring them food from their land every few days to help them survive.
After a couple of years, Smith suffered an injury from a gunpowder and had to return to England to be treated. The English told the Powhatans that he was dead, which Pocahontas later found out was false when she travelled there herself.
Now of course, anytime history is adapted into a children’s story (especially Disney), the historical account will be…appropriately tweaked in order to gain retention, understanding and interest from the kiddies. However…skirting around the history, forgetting to give the protagonists any personality, and blowing pixie dust all over legitimate history when offered the chance to teach children something is never the best route. Especially when giving us a moral we’ve heard all but too often, but without a new way to say it. So instead of reviewing this movie, here is my Top 5 Reasons Why Disney’s Pocahontas Doesn’t Work:
- Pocahontas – She is a major problem in this movie, and I’ll tell you why. Pocahontas, as a character, is bland. What she does and wants isn’t that bland; but she herself is as boring as the paper she was drawn on. Why? She was never given any real character. She is portrayed more as a representation of things and emotions than an actual person. Yes, it’s great that she wants to make peace between the English & the Native Americans. Yes, it’s great that her intentions to do this seems to be not just out of her own selfish love, but for wanting the hatred to cease. But these things don’t make a character. If fact, most of the characters in this movie are pretty one-note! The guy her father wants her to marry is dull as tar, but “he’s a strong, good provider.” Her raccoon is all over this movie, doing nothing but eating & ticking people off. Her best friend at least has some personality! Why couldn’t anyone else have some?
- Bland Songs – There are two memorable/good songs in this movie: Savages & Colors of the Wind. Other than that, I barely remember any of these, and chances are, you won’t either. This is of no fault to the composer, the grand Alan Menken, who made a pretty good score to the movie. It has everything to do with the lyrics being too obvious & performances by the cast not being as enticing as it could have been.
- Clichés – From the lame father-daughter dialogue to general predictability of the storyline, we do get plenty of cheesy moments in this flick. I get it…follow your heart and some nonsense. This would be more tolerable if Disney had found a more original way to tell a story we’ve heard done to death. Hey, isn’t Pocahontas a preteen? How old are you John Smith? ………that’s what I thought. Rewind.
- How Does the Talking Tree Work? – Is her grandmother supposed to be something that only Pocahontas can talk to since it’s her dead relative? Oh no wait, because now John Smith can talk to her. Okay. Is he involved in her delusion because of some wind/path bullcrap? Oh wait no, because now two of his English buddies were tripped by it and SAW her branch move. This is kind of like how in Disney’s Hunchback of Notré Dame, the gargoyles were supposed to be Quasimodo’s imaginary friends, but later they are clearly fighting in the battle and hurting other people. It just doesn’t work like this unless the movie explains how things in this universe work!
- Disney Magic vs. Historical Accuracy – Oooookay. I call bullcrap on how their relationship gets started and ultimately “works” in this movie. The movie suggests that there is a looming sense of magic which will point Pocahontas in the right “path” for her life. When she comes face-to-face with John Smith for the first time, not only does this magic show itself via floating leaves, it also causes her to be able to speak English. Um, I’m sorry, what?! They continue to carry like this throughout the movie, then later he can see the grandmother tree, and I think she & Thomas can understand each other when Kocoum is killed. Later I think her father is able to understand them as well. Oh yeah, and I think Pocahontas’ best friend could understand John too at some point, but without the magic wind. Basically, anywhere the wind goes, insight for the characters surfaces. The movie also drives the “you must know and follow your own path” thing, making a little too obvious for the average Disney kids’ movie.
My biggest hangups in this movie are both that it’s boring and that it jacks the actual history of Pocahontas & the early settlers around, and these two things don’t warrant a decent children’s movie in my opinion. If you want kids to learn peace between people different from them, that’s fine. If you want them to learn about this corner of history, also fine. But don’t sugarcoat it up for kids so much that you change the facts, romanticize it, and forget to give any memorable personality on top of all that. The music score is pretty good, and for 1995 Disney animation, it looked pretty good. The moral had it’s heart in the right place. But other than that, it ranks lower on the food chain as a movie, representation, and historical informance for kids in my opinion.
Or maybe I just don’t want my future 14-year-old daughter jumping into her 32-year-old man crush’s arms with her free-spirited magic color-painting wind leaves and whatnot.
Read a book,