After a 10-year slump, Disney's animation department made a
powerful comeback in 1989 with The Little Mermaid, a
fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson they turned into an animated
musical and filled with humor, identifiable characters, good
pacing and several catchy songs. Most notable, besides its modern
sensibilities, was the return to classic Disney quality in the
entire production. Prior to this we had to convince ourselves
that The Brave Little Toaster was something "amazing",
but with The Little Mermaid Disney invested a lot of
time and money and were well rewarded for their investment.
They followed up strong with Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast
and The Lion King — each time changing the art
style and raising the standard. They could do no wrong. . . .
But then, in 1995 they released Pocahontas, the "historical"
re-telling of the romance between English settler John Smith
and the Indian chief Powhatan's daughter, Pocahontas.
It's ten years later and by now most of you had probably seen
this movie. Not me. I did kind of a soft boycott of the film
when it came out back in 1995, just because of what I knew would
be glaring historical inaccuracies. Especially concerning Pocahontas's
early and unhappy demise. But now it's 10 years later and . . .
eh, I don't mind so much. I mean, if you want a list of goofs
you can check them out here.
Personally, I think they're too trifling to get hung up on.
I'm willing to grant plenty of poetic license.
Well, except for the way they changed Pocahontas from 12 years
old when she meets John Smith to 20-something — which
is about how old she was when she died — just to have
a Romeo & Juliet-style romance, free of all overtones of statutory
Still, the movie is remarkable in that it is one of the few
Disney animated movies to NOT have a happy ending and is the
first (also the ONLY) one to be based on real people.
And that's really all there is about it that's remarkable.
I was taken aback by just how flat the movie is. The story
relies on all the overused Disney conventions — Broadway-ish
songs, comic relief animal pals, defiant female motherless heroines
(Cinderella, Ariel, Belle, Princess Jasmine, Jane Porter, etc.)
— yet has so much less depth than its predecessors.
The design scheme is minimalist, which works well for the
most part, and the background paintings are gorgeous. But the
character designs with but a few exceptions are fairly homogenous,
their expressions so "subtle" that they barely emote.
Even the hero, John Smith, being such a rugged, well-known
adventurer (read: proficient murderer of indigenous people)
is little more than a cookie cutter version of Prince Eric from
The Little Mermaid. Despite all the research done to
make all the costuming and props accurate, John Smith looks
like he just got a Queer Eye makeover, with frosted,
moussed and tousled hair, circa 1992 A.D. (Think Daryl Hall
at the decline of Hall & Oates' popularity.)
Nearly half the movie is taken up by an over abundance of
characters bursting into song, which I found myself fast-forwarding
through most of the time. With the exception of Colors of
the Wind — thanks mostly to Vanessa Williams’s rendition
— the songs composed by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz
are pretty forgettable. It's easy to see how Trey Parker and
Mark Shaiman might have been inspired to write the soundtrack
for South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.
Most disappointing was to see that the great romance between
Pocahontas and John Smith . . . boils down to little
more than an afternoon of frolicking in the woods.
But, hey, I'm a grizzled 40-year old man who's been married
for 11 years. My days of having my spirit soar with love are
long over. I can tell you that my seven-year old daughter was
greatly affected by Pocahontas. She cried her eyes out
at the end and told me she never wanted to watch it again.
Which means it'll be THE least-watched DVD in our entire collection.
The first disc offers you the chance to watch the original
theatrical release or the new edit, which is basically the old
edit with one of the songs added back in. The audio commentary
offers no behind-the-scenes "dirt" or colorful anecdotes. It's
interesting only if you've never watched a DVD with the audio
commentary on before. Then there are the usual lame DVD games
suitable only for kids too young to work a PlayStation.
The second disc leads off with a 28-minute "Making Of" feature
narrated by voice actress Irene Bedard, which looks like it
was shot back in 1995. There's also a huge segment on the music
of the film where Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz nearly break
their arms patting each other on the back.
My favorite segments were those focused on the characters,
the design and the storyboards. Especially seeing the alternate
version of Pocahontas they passed on. Through out all of these,
it's repeatedly mentioned that Irene Bedard didn't just provide
the voice of Pocahontas, but was the model for the character,
as well . . . and yet I just couldn't see it. Pocahontas
looks so much like a young Barbara Carrera to me, while Irene
Bedard resembles Jennifer Garner more than her animated counterpart.
Most interesting on disc two is the section with deleted scenes.
Most of them are little more than pencil tests, and are just
slightly altered scenes that were in the movie anyway, or just
more (!!) musical numbers that were cut.
• A scene with a turkey character who was cut from the
final line up, which shows that originally the animal characters
were going to have voices
• A quick scene in the ship showcasing just how much
contempt the crew already had for Governor Ratliffe, which would've
made their eventual mutiny more plausible.
• A scene where John Smith explains to Pocahontas the
difference between her and English women: basically, that they
overdress. It's pretty clear that much of the reason he falls
for her is because she's half naked all the time.
It's hard to excited about the extra DVD features of a movie
you found lackluster in the first place. Though, even if I were
crazy about Pocahontas, I think I'd be disappointed by
how unexceptional most of the extras are, especially for a two-disc
The Movie Itself: 6 out
The DVD Features: 5 out