Pocahontas (1995)


Pocahontas (1995)


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.

Verdict: Overrated

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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5 Replies to “Pocahontas (1995)”

    1. Yes, the villain is particularly weak in Pocahontas. You gotta make the audience either care about him or make them love to hate him. Ratcliffe evokes neither emotion. I had to Google up his name. He’s that forgettable.

      1. It also kind of bothers me that he was based on an actual historical figure like the main characters. I know next to nothing about the historical John Ratcliffe, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t just a greedy, pompous buffoon as the movie showed him to be.

      2. It would be difficult to imagine anyone acting like Disney’s version of John Ratcliffe. I know many who are bothered by the historical inaccuracies of Pocahontas.

      3. That’s an issue Confused Matthew himself brought up in his review of it, and I agree with him; if you’re portraying historical people and events in film, you have to do it very carefully. In the words of Chief Roy Crazy Horse (the then-leader of the Powhatan nation): “In 1995, Roy Disney decided to release an animated movie about a Powhatan woman known as Pocahontas. In response to a complaint from the Powhatan nation, he claims the film is respectful, accurate and responsible. We of the Powhatan nation disagree. The film distorts history beyond recognition. Our offers to assist Disney with cultural and historical accuracy were rejected. Our efforts to help him reconsider his misguided mission were spurred.”

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