Pocahontas (1995) - 7 stars out of 10
I have just as much fun ripping into “Pocahontas” as the next guy. It is laughable to think that Disney put their A-team on this most-epic-Disney-movie-that-will-change-animation-forever and assigned their B-team to “The Lion King,” which would go on to become one of Disney’s masterpieces. However, when viewing “Pocahontas” from outside of that perspective, there are actually a lot of quality things going on here. It is different than most Disney animated features and I believe that’s what really attracted me to it this time. The story is a far cry from the Disney princess films. Pocahontas looks so different than any other Disney character, and it is the perfect contrast to the typical Disney-looking Englishmen as these two worlds collide. The ending of the story breaks the mold of predictable happily-ever-afters but the writers still leave a smile on our faces with an iconic moment. I won’t spoil it, but this sad circumstance transforms into an uplifting connection between the characters through the overwhelming crescendo of the musical theme. The premise of the wind then brings the story fully circle in what is one of the most chilling Disney moments. The film is a visual delight, from the incredible “Colors of the Wind” sequence to the animation of Pocahontas’ long, black hair. Something that I appreciated more this time around was the music. While I still believe that “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” was robbed for the Best Original Song Oscar, when you pair together “Colors of the Wind” with its overwhelming visual beauty, I know appreciate it much more. I enjoyed most of the music, particularly “Just Around the Riverbend” and “The Virginia Company,” but couldn’t get into the bad-guy song “Savages” the same way that I can get into “Be Prepared.” The film also makes good use of comical Disney animals, particularly the raccoon Meeko. He makes a good sidekick for Pocahontas, stirring up trouble but never getting in the way of the story. Unfortunately, I also have some issues with this film. First, it is historically inaccurate. While I understand that most renditions of this tale create a love story between John Smith and Pocahontas, it is fictional (and would be creepy if Pocahontas was portrayed as the 10-year-old that she actually was). Second, Governor Ratcliff looks like a volcano. I don’t really understand how a character can resemble a volcano but he does, and it is confusing why everybody looks normal except for him. Third, I don’t care for Grandmother Willow. I like the idea of Pocahontas physically communicating with nature and it creates a tangible way to show that she is sharing this world with John Smith, but a talking tree is not Disney’s best idea. Finally, the voice acting is very hit or miss. Irene Bedard does a masterful job of voicing Pocahontas and I really enjoyed Christian Bale as Thomas, but this felt like a very lazy performance by Mel Gibson (John Smith). While the script sets these characters up to fall in love, it almost feels like Gibson delivers his lines without emotion in spite of it. Finally, the language barrier between the Englishmen and the natives is very confusing, even for an adult. I realize that you cannot use subtitles in a film with an audience ranging from toddlers to adults but this definitely could have been handled better. In “Brother Bear,” the use of camera angles and stark contrasts between English and the bear language make it very apparent that people cannot understand the bear. But when you rapidly transition from Pocahontas speaking to him in her native tongue, him speaking to her in English, her learning a few words and communicating with those words, but then he uses new phrases that she obviously has not learned yet but seems to understand but maybe doesn’t… it just doesn’t work. The film is only 75 minutes long and a few extra minutes to show the development of their ability to communicate would have gone a long way. When I set out to revisit “Pocahontas,” I thought that it would be the same old "Poke-a-Hiney" that I used to make fun of with my brother. While it cannot compare to Disney’s greatest films, there are enough interesting and unique aspects that have left me with a positive impression and a desire to revisit it again in the future.