There are parts of Pocahontas I like, but I also find it the most objectionable film of Disney’s “renaissance” of 1989-1999. In fact, I would even say Pocahontas is borderline immoral in its depiction of Native Americans as tree-huggers. It’s one thing to misrepresent a myth of a lost civilization (Hercules) — which is something I’ve heard people complain about way more than the depiction of Native American culture in Pocahontas — but another to stereotype a whole (still existing) culture with a few broad strokes.
It might be a little bit easier to swallow if the movie didn’t take itself so damn seriously, pounding home its morals of equality and environmentalism, but the whole affair is clunky and didactic. None of the characters really light up the screen and entertain the way Genie or Lumiere do.
The romance between Pocahontas and John Smith lacks spark, the raccoon and pug sidekicks are annoying, and the whole talking tree thing feels like the writers ripped off the most boring 10% of The Lion King. The villain somehow manages to be both non-menacing and boringly evil, and Pocahontas herself projects few likable traits, caring more about a lover she barely knows than her friends and family. (Her major redeeming trait is her gorgeous character design, one of my favorites in all of animation.)
“Colors of the Wind” is truly stunning, but it takes more than a great music video to overcome an otherwise troublesome film. Give me “the struggle,” as Kevin noted. Don’t just tell me what the point of the struggle is… make me feel it.
Lines like “These pale visitors are strange to us. No one is to go near them!” sound as if they were written in a high school English class, and the mere fact that Disney opted to cut out the scene where its leads fall in love because test audiences found it “boring” shows you how misguided some of the thinking behind this film was.
Dan’s Favorite Moment: When Pocahontas stole a cub from her mama bear during “Colors of the Wind,” I was momentarily hopeful that Pocahontas and John Smith would be mauled and we’d be spared the rest of the movie
I’m surprised the whole movie wasn’t cut out due to test audiences.
For everything The Lion King wasn’t, at least it was dramatic. It fell off a cliff trying to climb it. Pocahontas sits passively at the bottom, re-using every cinematic trope that flies their way, hoping its artistic merits masks its non-story. Hey look, we have a romance! Didn’t you like that in Beauty and the Beast? Hey look, we have side characters! Didn’t you like that in The Little Mermaid? Hey look, we have one good song! Let’s just throw in a few more to make it a musical. At this point, success was the norm for Disney, and they were just following a seemingly infallible check-list. Even Superman has his kryptonite.
After the downfall that was The Lion King and Pocahontas, Disney would never find its footing again until the 21st century. I think critics were so disillusioned by Disney’s earlier works that they swallowed Pocahontas pretty well. Over time, Pocahontas’ true colors has been exposed.
Verdict: Properly Rated
Kevin’s Favorite Moment: John Smith waves goodbye in Powhatan
Final Grade: D- (60%)—Zzz…colors of the wind!…Zzz
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