Don’t worry; I won’t exhaust the Disney Renaissance this low on the list, but like Mulan, Pocahontas is just not quite as absolutely stellar as the rest of those ‘90s classics. It still is a marvelous film, beautifully animated and drawing inspiration not from fairy tales or legends but from real American history. It bothers me a little that Disney rewrote history in adding much to the story of Pocahontas and John Smith while leaving out other elements, such as the Indian maiden’s conversion to Christianity. Still, it’s laudable that the filmmakers endeavored to bring history to family audiences in such an entertaining package, even if only some main events are retained from the true account (the saving of Smith’s life, his changed injury and return to England).
Mel Gibson makes John Smith quite the dreamboat, and David Ogden Stiers proves he can play a greedy Englishman with the same panache as he can a clock. As far as cute animal sidekicks go, Meeko the raccoon and Flit the hummingbird are two of the funniest and lend the otherwise serious tale some lighthearted comic relief.
One thing I’ve noticed after repeated viewings is that Pocahontas more than any other recent Disney film depends on its music for its success. All of the other Disney classics have memorable standout sequences independent of their music (the wildebeest stampede, the Cave of Wonders, Shan-Yu’s mountain charge, etc.), while Pocahontas doesn’t. Take away Alan Menken’s soundtrack, and you’ve got the familiar “noble savage” and “follow your heart” clichés and a romance that’s a tad rushed and a much less entertaining story.
Luckily, though, we do have Menken’s songs, and they are perfect. From the history-laced “The Virginia Company” to the exhilarating “Just around the Riverbend,” his music continues to amaze. Stephen Schwartz’s lyrics are also fantastic and eminently satisfying to me as a poet. “Colors of the Wind” is especially classic and earned an Academy Award for Best Song. Ratcliffe’s songs are also great, particularly the Broadway-quality “Mine, Mine, Mine.” Despite accusations of racist lyrics, I also love “Savages” and can step away enough to see that the hatred is that of the characters and not the filmmakers. I actually think the way that both sides accuse the other of being “savages” is the most nuanced element of the whole film.
Pocahontas may have turned a platonic historical account into a Romeo-and-Juliet story of warring factions, but its soundtrack makes it yet another Disney classic. I wonder if they’ll ever tackle another historical drama again.
Best line: (Powhatan, at the end) “My daughter speaks with the wisdom beyond her years. We’ve all come here with anger in our hearts, but she comes with courage and understanding. From this day forward, if there is to be more killing, it will not start with me.”Artistry: 6 Characters/Actors: 6 Entertainment: 8 Visual Effects: 9 Originality: 5 Watchability: 9 Other (music): +2 TOTAL: 45 out of 60
Next: #170 – Foul Play
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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