My opinion right after watching film
My opinion right after watching the film is that it is not very good. There is worse in is canon, but I think so much in this film is hollow. The plot is EXTREMELY slow paced to the point where barely anything happens in the first half, the characterization is not very strong, and I do not feel like they took much risks with this film. If it REALLY wanted to be a serious movie, it needs to have depth, and stuff that makes sense. It does have good music, pretty animation, and likable characters, but this film jumped the shark. While I do think this is the beginning of the end of the Disney Renaissance, it is not the beginning of the end of traditional animation (this film is not to blame for that, as Toy Story was released AFTER this film).
Production for this film started on late 1990 when The Rescuers Down Under was about to be released. Down Under directors Mike Gabriel and Eric Golbeg created the idea on Thanksgiving about 2 people from clashing worlds falling in love, and Katzenberg immediately picked up the project because he was interested in a Romeo and Juliette-ish type of story. They travelled to the Algonquin tribe and Jamestown to accurately represent the natives in the movie, and for landscaping ideas for the film. The Powhatan Tribe would later release a statement about Disney refusing their input or suggestions for the film, and they are PISSED about it.
Things changed in 1992; right after Beauty and the Beast was nominated for Best Feature. Katzenberg saw Pocahontas as the next film that would be nominated and possibly won) Best Feature, so many changes were made to the film. The characters would be stylized more realistically, Pocahontas and John were made to be older, and A LOT more changes took place.
This was the hardest time for the studio, as Pocahontas and The Lion King were side by side the biggest projects they were working on, Aladdin was going through the theaters, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame was being picked up and starting development. Many worked on this film because as the years this and Lion King went through production, this movie was the A project, which will make them more money and awards.
The animals were supposed to talk, but John Candy died in 1994, having his character of a turkey removed, and all of the animals silent. Richard White was cast as Ratcliffe, but they were scared of him sounding too much like Gaston, so he was replaced by Stiers.
People say that the Renaissance and this film went down the drain because of Frank Wells dying in a crash in 1994; right before The Lion King was released, as he was the middle man between Roy Disney, Katzenberg, and Eisner. Another event that happened was that Katzenberg
quit, fired, left the studio in the fall of 1994 after he was not allowed to take Wells’ jobs. These 2 events are what is one of the reasons why things went downhill, and I disagree. Pocahontas was already in post production when Katzenberg left and most of the bad choices in this film were made BEFORE either of these events took place.
The film starts with the song Virginia Company, which is about the men going on the boat journey “The Virginia Company” to get gold for their families. A young man named Thomas (Christian Bale) and 2 other men (Bill Connolly) are excited about getting gold and blasting Indians, and are excited to be joined by the head explorer, hero, and captain; John Smith (Mel Gibson). This quest is being led by government member Governor Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers). A few weeks or months later, they are caught in a storm, and Thomas sails overboard, for John to heroically save him like a boss.
The men sing
attempts to on Gibson’s part a reprise of Virginia Company, which they are all excited about so they can kill Indians (which John says to leave that to him), and to make money. John does not really see the big deal, because he has been to hundreds of other new worlds, and they are all the same.
So 4 months later, we are introduced to the Powhatan tribe via the song Steady as the Beating Drum, which is a very nice song, that wraps up their culture nicely. Chef Powhatan (Russel Means) and their form of military come back from defeating the Massawommacks, and he goes on to brag that a young soldier Kocoum (James Apaumut Fall) being the best of all. He wonders where his daughter is, and we are introduced to our heroine Pocahontas (Irene Bedard) by the wind and leaves swirling around her, as she stands on a high cliff. Nakoma (Michelle St. John) tells her that her father has returned, which excites her, and instead of taking the easy way down, she wants to be dramatic, and very the top, causing her to jump off the cliff and into the water.
After they play around for a bit, she tells Nakoma about a constant dream she has been having about a spinning arrow. They return to their tribe to see her father announce that there will be a feast for Kocoum’s bravery in the war. Nakoma fawns over him, but Pocahontas does not because he is so….serious. She reunites with her father, and they talk privately in his hut for a bit. She tells him about having a weird dream, and that she feels something exciting is about to happen, to which he replies that something is because Kocoum asked for her hand in marriage, and he agreed to it. She reacts like this…
Her father tells her that she needs to settle down and to play her role as the daughter of a chief. He gives her her dead mother’s necklace, as she wanted Poca to wear it when she got married. One thing I WILL give this film, is that they do address the deceased or missing parent. He sings about how the rivers last so long because they are steady (like what she needs to be). She then jumps in a canoe and sings Just Around the Riverbend, and this is one of the best songs in the movie. It expresses her being indecisive, not knowing what to make out of her life, and what to do. She likes to follow her instincts and to explore, but she does not know what she is exploring for.
She pays a visit to a tree named Grandmother Willow (Linda Hunt) and
why the fuck do we have talking trees in a realistic world but in the 1600s? she tells Pocahontas to Listen to her Heart, which is so coincidental when a boat shows up. John Smith is up and out of the ship as soon as possible to explore the new land, and we learn that Ratcliffe is using the boys to get the gold, and to steal it from all of them. We know that this is his last chance to not be a laughing stock in council too late. Poca follows the ship, and has an eye orgasm when she sees the unfamiliar and attractive blonde and pale man in front of her.
So Pocahontas’ raccoon Meeko (John Kassir) runs in to John, which causes him to whip out his sword out of first instinct. He ends up liking the animal, but soon returns to Ratcliffe to only be told to handle and to get rid of the Indians that are nearby. So we get to the mediocre at best and the silliest song of the movie, Mine, Mine, Mine. Governor sings about wanting to glitter in riches, and hoping to be lord, as his greed for the gold and wealth takes over. John also sings about wanting adventure and land. Really? This is our villain? If we are going to have a serious movie, we need a serious villain, and Ratcliffe is SO not a serious villain. Why couldn’t we have 2 groups of people’s prejudice being the leading conflict, and not a greedy, unaccomplished fat man be the SOLE person responsible?
Pocahontas has been following John for hours, and he senses that something is following him. He prepares his gun, and as soon as Pocahontas goes to follow him, he jumps on a rock, and ready to shoot the thing up, but as he is a muscle away from shooting, he stops because he sees a beautiful girl. How shallow. Pocahontas has this fear overcome her, so she runs away from him, but he aggressively (not trying to be so) grabs her, so she will not leave.
John and Pocahontas are talking about how they find their names weird, and how to have a handshake and…..oh shit, I almost forgot. When Pocahontas comes out of the canoe, she listens with her heart, and is SUDDENLY able to speak English. What the fuck? This is the most pathetic cheapshot I have ever seen to get out of a language barrier in film. So anyways, this boring conversation ends up with John calling her people uncivilized, savages, and that they are going to build a bunch of buildings and to teach them how to use their land and how to live. I already discussed their relationship here so I do not need to recap everything about their relationship. She walks off from him, but he follows her, and this leads to Colors of the Wind.
So she hears the emergency horn, and is about to leave, but he grabs her, begging, needing to see her again. You could feel the lust (and nothing else) between them. A few days has gone by, and they are both a bit down, which their people notice. John has had enough and randomly goes to look for Pocahontas, and finds her at the corn fields. Nakoma loses her top, and Pocahontas asks her to cover for her right before they go off. Kocoum arrives and asks Nakoma where his fiance is? He says that she needs to stop running around, and that Nakoma is the only one she will listen to.
The couple walk around the forest, and John is fascinated by it. He soon realizes that there is no gold on the land (as Pocahontas thought Corn was gold). He chuckles as he knows some of the settlers will lose it and might go home, causing her to ask sadly if he will go home. He reveals that he has nowhere to call home. This shows a different side to John that could…no, SHOULD have been explored by to make him more relatable, but they never do. He soon enough meets Grandmother Willow.
So Willow ends up liking him, as he has a good soul. His 2 older settlers go looking for him, but Willow soon gets rid of them. Realizing that the entire group will look for him, he parts ways with Pocahontas and tells her to meet him there tonight
so he can poke her hontas, as he caresses her cheek. Poca is very indecisive about whether she should be with him, though she knows her father will not approve, but she feels like she is doing the right thing.
They both go to their groups to tell them that they do not need to fight one another, but Ratcliffe refuses and tells Smith (who reveals he met a native) that if anyone does not fight with them, they will be tried for treason. Pocahontas tries to convince her father (who brought many of the neighboring tribes to help them fight the settlers off) to talk to one of them, but he refuses and says that she needs to learn to stay in her place. This of course leads to them meeting later that night to warn one another and in the worst time, they end up making out.
Kocuom and Thomas followed them and the former attacks Smith in a crazy outrage, and pushes Pocahontas to the floor when she tries to separate them. Thomas (who has been seen as a disappointment the entire time) loads his gun and kills Kocoum.
John tells Thomas to bounce, and he takes the cover for him, as the natives run to the sight. Smith gets captured to be beheaded in the morning, and Powhatan yells at his daughter for her foolishness and her recklessness. You see, she is not perfect. Whens he does something wrong, it is acknowledged as wrong. Nakoma tells Pocahontas that she told Kocoum to go after her as she was worried about her friend. Feeling bad, she takes Pocahontas to the tent John is in, where they sing If I Never Knew You (which was cut because children thought it was boring in an early screening, but it is an important song). In the song, They both practically say that they found their other half in each other (which is kind of strange, since we almost never see them talk about themselves instead of their culture, but maybe that was off screen). During the song, they are caressing one another, leaning on each other, and inches away from one another’s face. Neither one has regrets about meeting each other, as they would be empty if they never knew each other.
Thomas returns to camp to tell everyone that Smith was captured. Ratcliffe uses this as an opportunity to kill off the Natives to get the gold. This leads to the song Savaages, with both sides singing their hatred for one another (the lyrics are very weird in this song),with Pocahontas joining in the song to sing about what to do. She eventually runs as she looks at an arrow (the one in her dream), and she realizes her path; to stop a war and save John Smith’s life. As soon as Powhatan is about to club Smith, Pocahontas lays over him and demands her father to stop.
At first, he does not, but she yells at him about letting hatred take him over and with it leading them to a path that is not good. He is convinced and lifts his club up. Ratclife tells them to shoot Powhatan, but they do not because he did not kill Smith. He does not care, and grabs a gun; ready to shoot at Powhatan, but Smith jumps in and takes the bullet. He ends up having to go to Britain, and everyone prepares to send him off. Pocahontas and her tribe return to the sight (with food), and as John is about to go tho the boat, she approaches and gives him some medicine. Apparently, it will be more safe and better if he is on a ship for 4 months than to be treated in Virginia. He is welcomed by Powhatan, and Smith asks Pocahontas to go with him. She realizes that they have to be apart, as her people need her, and he needs to be taken care of.
They have a steamy make out session before he is put on the boat. It is too emotional for her, so she runs as close as she can to the ship, and they wave Wingapo style, and we end with a portrait of Pocahontas watching him leave on a cliff.
The characters in this film are………..decent at best. While I do like a majority of them, I have to admit…they are pretty flat. There is not much to these characters, and I felt like they were too afraid as to how to handle them, just in case they offend people.
The animation is beautiful. The backgrounds have the most lush details and colors, and it really looks fascinating. I do like the realistic touch on the character designs (though the native girls needed more of a nose). What I do not like was that they were not allowed to be given emotion through their animation, unlike Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and all of the film’s predecessors and successors. Everything else about it is amazing.
The music is pretty good, but not as good as I thought it was. The lyrics in some songs are very weird (Savages, some in Colors of the Wind). The score is really good, as it either has the 1600s British score, or the native score. Most of the songs in there do have purpose, and add something to the characters. About the musical format, I do think it mostly worked here, but this is one of the reasons why the Renaissance ended. I think they should have ended the musicals with Hunchback, because the 3 after that movie did not benefit from the musical format.
Reception at Release
When the film was released on June 23rd, 1995, it was a financial success. It has the hugest premiere for ANY movie, and it made roughly around the same that Beauty and the Beast did 3 and a half years beforehand; with $141,579,773 domestically, and $204,500,000 overseas, with a total amount of $346,079,773 worldwide; $5 million less than Beauty and the Beast. The issue is that they expected this film to be a huger success than The Lion King, and it made a lot less than that film and Aladdin (though more than The Little Mermaid).
When it came to the reviews………..it received mixed reviews; which was shocking to the studio. It got criticism for being an overall plotless film with bland characters, an offensive portrayal of American history, and SO MUCH MORE. It was praised for it’s soundtrack, as it is the only soundtrack other than Lion King to top the charts, and currently sold the same amount as BatB and Aladdin’s soundtracks.
It won the pattern of 2 Academy Awards (Best Score, and Best Song for Colors of the Wind), and this wold be the last film in the Renaissance to win as many awards, and to get the duo awards that was given to all 4 of it’s predecessors. It won a few Annies (one for Best Animated Feature
which took place before Toy Story was even released, and was nominated and won countless of other awards, either for technological achievements, or the soundtrack.
Many people started to catch on that Disney was using and reusing a formula in each of the films, which would cause all the films that were developed since 1995 (Tarzan and the films after) to have a different style.
The reception today is not….really….good. It is seen as being the beginning of the end of the Renaissance. the beginning of the downfall of WDAS, and to a few, the beginning of the end of traditional animation. The studio does not have this film mentioned much, not much merchandise on it (though she is a Disney Princess, who appears the least on that merchandise). It is not buried like The Black Cauldron, and it is remembered, but most of that is for its music and animation. Many are offended about how it gave a slap in the face to the American history. Oh, I forgot to mention, it did well enough to spawn a sequel in 1998.
= 27/40 = 68% (It only got this high because of the animation and music)
35 thoughts on “Walt Disney Animation Studios Review: Pocahontas”
Well…a 68% isn’t THAT high to me. It’s lower than what you gave Sleeping Beauty. I agree Pocahontas isn’t that good, but I don’t think it’s as horrible as people say. But this film just yells, “WE REALLY WANT A BEST PICTURE NOMINATION!” Another hole is how Nakoma and the other Native Americans can understand John Smith and they didn’t even “listen to their hearts?” That…is a pretty cheap shot.
It is not that high, but I thought I would end up giving it a lower mark. I agree that it is not the worst or the best thing to come out of the canon.
Nakoma could have understood John if he spoke native. Wither way, it is very weird. Hunchback does kind of have a bit of Oscar bait to it as well.
This bores me most in the Canon…or at least tied with ‘Fantasia’.
Can I ask why?
I dunno. Too slow, maybe? And I have no interest in the characters, music, animation, or plot.
Reasonable enough. Do you blame this as the end of traditional animation, WDAS, and the Renaissance?
No, I feel the Renaissance was still strong up to ‘Tarzan’.
Yeah, I’m with Commendation. I’m just watching waiting for something to happen.
This movie is a reminder that the best animation and the best score is worth nothing, if you don’t offer good characters and a good story. If the former two points were not that outstanding, this would be one of the worst, perhaps the worst movie in canon.
Pretty damn much, and there are even flaws with those aspects as well. I don’t know what happened as to why the film ended up like this. And the worst part is that they refused to receive help by the Powhatan tribe.
Honestly: They should have never picked up this legend in the first place. It is quite an offensive story, if you really get down to it, made up by English man. If they wanted to do something about native Americans, they should have picked one of their legends in the first place. In a way they did the best they could with the material they had…the material was just a bad choice to begin with.
True. It is clear that John Smith made up a lot of it, but history (at least the ones in America) is written by HIS (the white man) Story.
The story of Pocahontas was definitely a bit controversial and offensive, but what they did to it to fit in the Renaissance formula was something else.
I kind of agree with Swanpride. I think that the biggest mistake Disney made was adapting a historical figure into a film. They should have stuck with adapting a fairytale (or even a legend in Mulan’s case). By choosing a real person, it led to controversy over the historical inaccuracies and how the Native Americans were portrayed.
Add me to the list of people who thinks they should never have tried to adapt this story. It’s just too hard to adapt a historical story and people without creating controversy. This story, in particular, would be a bit too adult if it was told accurately.
If it was told extremely accurately, it would have been very adult, but the fact that it is inaccurate is not even mine (or many people’s) interest. To be honest, even Aladdin got a lot of controversy with the Arabian portrayal as well, but the story itself is critically acclaimed.
Yeah, but I think the difference is that at least Aladdin didn’t made good Arabic characters or put an important historical figure to shame.
*made good Arabic characters
Yeah, I don’t like this movie, either. I honestly think they made a HUGE mistake in making Ratcliffe the villain, because I’m pretty sure the actual person didn’t act the way he did in the movie.
Aside from that, the rest of the movie is so bland and trite. I agree that Colors of the Wind is very preachy, and I can’t get invested in Pocahontas and John Smith’s romance at all (not to mention the animation on their faces needs MUCH MORE expression). My pick for the weakest of the Renaissance era. Do you agree?
From historical records, Ratcliffe was completely different in real life, and John Smith (the person) was more like Governor Ratcliffe (the character).
Well, I made a blog post specifically about Pocahontas and John Smith’s relationship months ago, and I definitely agree with you on that.
I forgot what I ranked Hercules (around the same as Pocahontas), so those two are definitely the weakest in the Renaissance.
I’d rank Hercules as the second weakest of the era. The only thing I hate about it is the plot holes, while the rest of it is either OK (like Hercules himself and the side characters) or enjoyable (the songs and the animation, both of which are decent enough). The only thing I love about it is Hades, who’s one of my favorite Disney villains.
I’m curious to your thoughts on Hunchback. I think it’s slightly underrated, but I do see the flaws in it.
Same. Pocahontas and Hercules are the weakest to me too.
Everybody seems to love Hades! I guess it’s his humor. But to me, it’s a problem if the antagonist is more likeable than the protagonist. Guess we’ll wait for that review…
His humor does play a role in it. James Woods was on fire with the role (no pun intended). But (for me, anyway) it’s also because of his scheming and manipulations, and he is at least a bit sympathetic (all the other gods treat him like crap and has the worst job in the world as the ruler of the Underworld). My only problem with Hades is that he REALLY holds the idiot ball for not realizing Hercules is dead for EIGHTEEN YEARS, which is just one of many of the infamous plot holes in it.
I had to watch the entire movie at once to get this out on time and to have the content fresh in my mind for the review. In future watches, it will most likely be in bits and pieces. Welcome to Animatedkid’s blog, and I will definitely check out yours.