Disney Marathon: ‘Pocahontas’


I’m left wondering if I ever saw this movie in its entirety. When it was released my sister was quite into it, but I only remember seeing it piecemeal. This is the first time I’ve watched it through. At least, it would be if we didn’t split the viewing over two nights.

For those just joining us, this is a movie marathon with a twist. Myself (cranky 30s blogger), my son Josh (stoic 10 year old Nintendo obsessive) and my daughter Amelia (drama llama 7 year old princess wannabe) are watching Disney movies in a random order and ranking them. We hope to see interesting differences in how we organise our lists.

Film: Pocahontas

Released: 1995

Director: Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg

Cast: Irene Bedard, Mel Gibson, David Ogden Stiers, John Kassir, Russell Means, Jim Cummings, Christian Bale, Billy Connolly, Linda Hunt

Plot: English settlers arrive in the New World, eager to stake their claims and cash in on resources. One captain, John Smith, meets and falls in love with Pocahontas, the daughter of the indigenous tribe’s chief.

Review: Here’s a movie with no sense of identity beyond ‘Disney Renaissance Film’. It’s a paint-by-numbers madlib mishmash of elements from previous successes mixed together into a bland paste.

Pocahontas (Bedard) has the wanderlust of Belle, the diplomatic cunning of Jasmine and the romantic heart of Ariel, whilst John Smith (Gibson) is the ruffian with a heart of gold and the spirit of adventure we’ve seen three times now. During this decade many of the Disney villains had some LGBQT+ coding, but Ratcliffe (Stiers) is a deeply stereotypical negative portrayal complete with the pigtails and foppish manservant. There’s very little that stands out, with the overall impression being similar to the Princess Trope parody scene in Ralph Breaks the Internet. She sings to her important water.

We start with John Smith in England, already leaving us disconnected from the protaganist. There’s something suitable about the sexist, racist, anti-semite Mel Gibson playing a colonist, but there’s no reason for him to have an Australian accent. White people hadn’t found Australia yet, and for some reason Gibson can’t suppress his marketable accent for the role. I’m pretty sure Disney Animation can get him a dialect coach.

Anyway, John Smith travels across the sea along with Billy Connolly playing Scottish Man and Christian Bale playing Impressionable Youth. The expedition is lead by Governor Ratcliffe, portrayed as an evil gay, working for the Virginia Company and set on digging up all the gold he can get his hands on. In the New World we meet the Powhatan tribe and the chief’s daughter Pocahontas. She feels there’s more to life than all this. She is brave and spiritual and has whacky animal sidekicks. Pocahontas has been having narratively useful prophetic dreams and talks to ‘Grandmother Willow’ (Hunt) about it.

When Smith and Pocahontas meet, they can magically talk to each other. Then there are songs and misunderstandings and then Pocahontas proves that she’s willing to die for the man she met yesterday. In the end John Smith must return to England without Pocahontas, but the annoying animals prove that white people and native tribes can live in harmony.

Look, the story is a mess. It’s shallow, it’s uncomfortably tropey and Mel Gibson is in it (but he made an Oscar nominated film, so he’s technically forgiven I guess?). That’s not to say it’s a disaster. I like the watercolour backgrounds, and they’re consistently impressive. The feeling is of a living Bob Ross landscape. New World seems like a comfortable place.

There are some good musical numbers in the mix, but you have to deal with a major villain song being about ‘digging’. ‘Colour of the Wind’ is solid if a little generic. ‘Savages’ is jaunty and awkward as fuck. The message seems to be that white colonists and indigenous populations are just as bad as each other and, well, that’s not the case. Of course, opening that book raising the issue of historical accuracy in general and that’s a whole big thing.

It’s just a weird choice to make a historical figure who was no more than 12 years old in tellings a young woman just because you want to make a romantic movie because there’s a better chance of an Oscar. Hardly an artistic reason, and in hindsight it’s hard to imagine how many animators were trying to jump onto this project from The Lion King. Disney in general backed the wrong horse here, with so much investment resulting in a product by committee.

Best Song: I have to go with ‘Savages’, it’s just do delightfully awkward. Crazily enough, it got heavily censored before making it cinemas.

Although the digging song is mesmerising.

Weirdest Trivia: The cinematic release date coincides with the historical Pocahontas’ 400th birthday.

Rating: THREE out of TEN

THE RANKINGS

ME

I always thought this would be a generic Princess tale, but it doesn’t seem to manage even that.

Click those titles if you want to see what we said about the other movies.

  1. Zootopia
  2. Robin Hood
  3. Aladdin
  4. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  5. Wreck-It Ralph
  6. Alice in Wonderland
  7. Beauty and the Beast
  8. Moana
  9. Big Hero 6
  10. Frozen
  11. Tangled
  12. The Sword in the Stone
  13. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  14. Mulan
  15. Emperor’s New Groove
  16. Fantasia
  17. Ralph Breaks the Internet
  18. The Three Caballeros
  19. The Princess and the Frog
  20. Hercules
  21. Oliver & Company
  22. The Aristocats
  23. Saludos Amigos
  24. Dinosaur
  25. The Fox and the Hound
  26. Pocahontas
  27. A Goofy Movie
  28. Treasure Planet
  29. Chicken Little

AMELIA

Nothing like a Disney Princess to capture Amelia’s attention. She also liked the Bob Ross style of artwork. I don’t know she learned about Bob Ross, but apparently she’s a Bob Ross fan.

  1. Frozen
  2. Emperor’s New Groove
  3. Zootopia
  4. Moana
  5. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  6. Mulan
  7. Hercules
  8. Alice in Wonderland
  9. Wreck-It Ralph
  10. Tangled
  11. Pocahontas
  12. Dinosaur
  13. The Aristocats
  14. The Princess and the Frog
  15. Robin Hood
  16. Beauty and the Beast
  17. The Three Caballeros
  18. The Fox and the Hound
  19. The Sword in the Stone
  20. Saludos Amigos
  21. Oliver & Company
  22. Aladdin
  23. Treasure Planet
  24. Big Hero 6
  25. A Goofy Movie
  26. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  27. Chicken Little
  28. Fantasia

JOSHUA

Joshua took a keen interest in the true story behind Pocahontas, which lead into a longer conversation about white colonisation and modern race relations, and his introduction to NWA.

  1. Zootopia
  2. Big Hero 6
  3. Aladdin
  4. Emperor’s New Groove
  5. Treasure Planet
  6. Moana
  7. Ralph Breaks the Internet
  8. The Three Caballeros
  9. Saludos Amigos
  10. Wreck-It Ralph
  11. Frozen
  12. Mulan
  13. The Princess and the Frog
  14. Robin Hood
  15. The Sword in the Stone
  16. Beauty and the Beast
  17. Oliver & Company
  18. Tangled
  19. Pocahontas
  20. A Goofy Movie
  21. The Aristocats
  22. Fantasia
  23. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  24. The Fox and the Hound
  25. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  26. Dinosaur
  27. Hercules
  28. Alice in Wonderland
  29. Chicken Little