Disney’s “Pocahontas” (1995)

Image: Disney, Wikipedia.org

Sure, you can paint with the colors of the wind, but can you write or act?

PLOT –

A young Native American woman and an English settler fall in love as colonial Native American Tribes and English Settlers prepare for war.

Continuing on from The Lion King, this is another pseudo-Shakespearean adaptation (this time, even more thinly veiled) in the form of Romeo and Juliet (even though The Lion King II is based on that, and better to boot) and the execution of any deeper story falls flat. While you can boil any film down to a sentence or two, this one is more basic and simple than the rest. It’s even basic science from Isaac Newton: “For every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction”, but I digress.

Girl meets boy, their families hate it and go to war.

The film does nothing to really shake up this dynamic, and is just a predictable story with several historical inaccuracies and an overall sense of blandness throughout, filling pre-established checkboxes instead of creating an interesting and compelling plot.

My PLOT RATING is 4 / 10.

CHARACTERS –

Pocahontas (Irene Bedard) is barely interesting. She is trying so hard to be like the other Renaissance Protagonists with her ‘I Want’ Song, and a thread of motivation: She wants a shake-up in her life, but we’re never told specifically what. Ariel wanted to be with the humans, Belle wanted to get out of town, Aladdin wanted to be rich, and Pocahontas wanted… Something. Literally anything. It’s so ill-defined. She has a single joke in the film (about her betrothed’s smile, or lack thereof) but otherwise is stoic, and she only impacts the greater plot at the climax. Her best friend Nakoma (Michelle St. John) and her betrothed Kocoum (James Apaumut Fall) also help support her character and give her someone to bounce off of, but not enough to make her character good.

John Smith (Mel Gibson) is also quite boring. He lacks significant emotion and most scenes have him just reacting to events rather than taking action. He’s very passive as a character and at many points of the story, yet in some scenes, he’s ironically funny as his dull surprise and bland line reads don’t quite match up to the seriousness of the scenes. I can see what they were trying to do with the character (suave and self-sure), but it seems like the acting and direction did not go down that path.

Powhatan (Russell Means)… Let’s talk about him. Without a doubt the least interesting character in the film. His line delivery is boring, his singing voice does a better acting job than him (this is veteran voice actor Jim Cummings though), and I feel like with better direction, his manner of speech could be more powerful instead of sounding tired throughout. I also understand that while making this, Disney tried to right past wrongs, and hired Native American actor Russell Means, and again, with better direction or acting, Powhatan could have been a great Disney father.

Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers) is just okay. He’s not the best or worst Disney Antagonist, but he’s pretty low on the list. He only has an interest in gold and anyone who stands in his way dies. He’s not really all that evil either, breaking the mold from past Disney Villains, more banal than outright vicious. He doesn’t have a personal relationship with any of the characters, and this makes his character weak in turn. He doesn’t even meet Pocahontas at all in the film, instead having John Smith as his own antagonist, and their worker-boss relationship is a strange one for a hero-villain matchup. Stiers also plays Ratcliffe’s lackey, Wiggins, and while he is a way better character than others here, he lacks the screen-time to make him more memorable.

The rest of the characters are mostly minor, some played by now-famous actors like Ben (Billy Connolly) Thomas (Christian Bale), and they’re great additions to the film. The real best characters here are Meeko (John Kassir), Flit (the ever-ubiquitous Frank Welker), Percy (Danny Mahn), and Grandmother Willow (Linda Hunt, playing an awesome ‘Grandma’ tree character), who all bring humor, light, and life to the film, even sometimes saving it in my humble opinion.

My CHARACTERS RATING is 4 / 10.

DIALOGUE –

Along with the characters, some of the most bland words put to animation. I found it hard to follow what the characters were saying because of the lack of strong diction and direction. The actors all did the bare minimum here, and whether through bad direction or a fault of the actors themselves (it’s the former) the dialogue was boring enough to have to rewind, something I’ve never had to do before in this series.

My DIALOGUE RATING is 3 / 10.

EFFECTS –

This is one of the few competent parts of the film. The effects are gorgeous. The sense of scale here especially. Huge mountains, trees, and boats dwarf the humans here, and it’s all amazing. The use of bright colors and more stylized linework make for better animation. The eyes are also more realistic, and the characters look more human (with the possible exception of Ratcliffe, see the photo below). The textures are also great here, with the wood, fog, and water all looking fantastic, and the constant leaves blowing through the frame is a great technical achievement, especially in “Colors of the Wind”.

My EFFECTS RATING is 10 / 10.

MUSIC –

Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz compose more Oscar-winning music for Disney, and while the score isn’t quite as memorable, it’s still really done well and has a nice use of themes for characters and situations. The lyrical songs aren’t the absolute best, but they’re more memorable and great to listen to and watch.

“The Virginia Company” – Unintentionally funny, and provides context to the English and their motives. Basically a song dedicated to England’s sponsor. (Brought to you by the Disney Company.)

“Steady as the Beating Drum” – The theme to Pocahontas’ tribe in the film, showing contrast to the English. The reprise is also really good, and sung by Jim Cummings.

“Just Around the Riverbend” – Really good song with visuals that try to be exciting, but fall short. Sung very well by Judy Kuhn, this song actually seems faster than I originally remembered.

“Listen With Your Heart” – Short, but sweet, and a nice hidden message of the film: to listen to others, and understand what they are saying rather than rashly or harshly acting.

“Mine, Mine, Mine” – The Villain Song of the film, but not really that evil, more glorifying and showboaty. The ‘dig’ refrain does stick in the mind though.

“Colors of the Wind” – The song that won an academy award, and it’s great. Beautiful singing and visuals, and over too soon. Also has a good credits version as well.

“Savages” – Another great song, one of my favorites. Shows the stupidity of racism, war, and greed all in one, with great buildup and plot relevance.

“If I Never Knew You” – Based on a cut song from the film, and both versions, credits and deleted are both good, but the deleted version would have packed more punch, whereas the credits version is more of a pop-romance song.

My MUSIC RATING is 8 / 10.

OVERALL –

Pocahontas had so much potential. It could have had memorable characters and dialogue that people would still talk about to this day. Instead, it’s story is predictable and boring, with bland characters and badly acted dialogue, save for the great animation and music, but we knew that was going to be amazing anyways. We should be positively surprised by the characters, and wowed by the story. The environmental and spiritual parts of the story, while good, aren’t that impactful to mention, and the characters, while searching to erase the past interpretations of ‘racist’ depictions, only dull those depictions, being boring and dull so as not to be offensive.

Pocahontas is too safe of a film, but with a few risks, it could have truly been awesome.

Image: Disney, Fromscreentotheme.com

My OVERALL RATING of Disney’s Pocahontas is 58%.

Next time…

Well there won’t be a next time!

I’m skipping it and going to the Festival of Fools!

What could go wrong?

Stay tuned!

 

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