This land is your land. This land is my land.
Pocahontas is directed by Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg and is inspired by the Native American woman, Pocahontas. Stars of the voice cast include Irene Badard, Mel Gibson, David Ogden Stiers, Christian Bale, Russell Means, John Kassir, and Linda Hunt.
It would honestly be quite foolish of me to go this entire month that I have dedicated to musicals and not discuss at least one Disney animated film, many of which are well-known musicals. And while anything like Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, or The Lion King all seem like natural selections, I felt the urge to go against the grain a little and choose the one 1990's Disney Musical that's slightly overshadowed by those other 1990's Disney big wigs: Pocahontas.
Discussing Pocahontas in considerable length is almost impossible to do without bringing up The Lion King, which was being developed concurrently with Pocahontas. The Lion King went on to be a massive hit at the box office and with critics, becoming the then second highest grossing film of all time and still to this day the highest grossing traditionally animated film. Pocahontas, unfortunately, was not able to match The Lion King's success, grossing a middling $346 million and garnering mixed reviews. Then-Disney studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg decided that Pocahontas should be told as a romantic epic, similar to Beauty and the Beast, hoping that the movie would receive a Best Picture nomination like Beauty and the Beast did. Turns out that didn't happen, though Pocahontas was still able to snag Oscars for Best Original Musical or Comedy Score and Best Original Song. This is all to say that Pocahontas, on all accounts, fell short in its attempts at becoming another one of the Disney musical titans, despite the fact that it certainly tries hard to be something extraordinary.
The film is a fictional retelling of the historical encounter between the young Native American woman Pocahontas and Englishman John Smith. John Smith (Mel Gibson) is sailing with a group of English settlers from the Virginia Company to the New World, in hopes of finding gold, adventure, and perhaps new settlement. The leader of the voyage is the greedy and self-absorbed Governor Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers), who seeks gold to bring him wealth and a renewed status among his fellow Englishmen. The voyagers make landfall in Tsenacommacah, North America, home to the Powhatan Indian tribe. Pocahontas (Irene Bedard), the daughter of Chief Powhatan (Russell Means), is a free-spirited girl who fears to be married to Kocoum (James Apaumat Fall), a Powhatan warrior who is too serious for her. While exploring the wilderness, Pocahontas encounters John Smith, and the two develop an instant connection. Pocahontas and John Smith share information about each other's worlds, and the two soon fall in love. However, the love between the two is threatened when the Powhatan tribe and the Englishmen learn of each other's presence, and the two groups begin to gear up for a fight.
- There's no denying that Pocahontas is a treat for the eyes, with dazzling nature backgrounds featuring all kinds of shades of blue and green. And seeing how the movie has an underlying, "Save the environment! Don't let those bad people cut down all the trees!" message going on, it's quite easy to see why Pocahontas would want its trees and rivers to look as gorgeous as can be and its wild animals to look cute and cuddly. In fact, "The Colors of the Wind" speaks the most about how if the Englishmen cut down all the trees, then all of the beauty, the love, and the importance of the environment will be lost. Well meaning, and it's a good thing that Pocahontas is so historically accurate that there is absolutely nothing in the history books about how European settlers took over and established settlements on Native American soil, because of how Pocahontas was able to convince John Smith and the rest of the Englishmen of how important nature is.
- All sarcasm aside, Pocahontas simply isn't fun enough nor inspiring enough to make itself into anything resembling a Disney classic. The "Disney-ification" of so many of its historically-based plot points don't have the same kind of magic that many of the other Disney musical films do. Pocahontas is turned into a stunning Native American model that looks about twice as old as the real-life Pocahontas who met John Smith. She also possesses the power to summon birds and charm other furry animals (as well as boast two animal sidekicks), a staple for Disney animated female-lead characters. Her free-spirited personality doesn't shine through as much as it should, and none of the songs she sings resemble anything fun. They also don't get you in any kind of mood to sing along and dance.
None of the other characters are very interesting, especially the villain, who lacks the cunning ambitions and the lovable sneering of the likes of Ursula and Jafar. How can you possibly have a Disney film with weak characters and no sense of fun? It's almost sacrilege.
The fact that Pocahontas doesn't have the usual feels of an animated Disney film is as strange as it is wrong. Part of what makes these older animated Disney films so charming and so enjoyable to watch is how they can present to you full-bodied characters, wonderful songs, and a good, fun time, all in the span of only 80-90 minutes. This is sadly not the case with Pocahontas, whose historical inaccuracies are among the least of its problems. While not outright terrible, Pocahontas struggles mightily with a lack of fun and an inability to create true inspiration with its messages of saving the environment and getting along with people that are different from you. All of the visual appeal in the world can't save the film, though it definitely tries.
Recommend? If you're obsessed with Disney, then yes. Otherwise, no.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: