by D.W. Lundberg

Friday, January 6, 2012


My continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries have also been included below.

Title: Pocahontas (1995)

The Plot: The daughter of a Native American chieftain encounters English colonists in 16th- century Virginia, and falls in love with a soldier.

The Songs: "The Virginia Company," "Steady As The Beating Drum," "Just Around The Riverbend," "Listen With Your Heart," "Mine, Mine, Mine," "Colors Of The Wind," "Savages," "If I Never Knew You (Love Theme From Pocahontas)," "Colors Of The Wind (End Title)"

A Little History: Developed concurrently with The Lion King (1994). Most of Disney's animation staff decided to work on Pocahontas instead, feeling it was the more prestigious of the two films. The producers consulted with historians and Native American activists to lend the film greater historical accuracy, and even hired Native American actors to fill out their respective roles (save for Judy Kuhn and Jim Cummings, who provided the singing voices for Pocahontas and her father, respectively). Despite this, many organizations - including the Native American Powhatan Nation and the American Indian Movement (AIM) - protested the film's stereotypical presentation of real-life events. Production took nearly five years to complete, due to the intricate color design and geometric shapes of the characters. Supervising animator John Pomeroy modeled John Smith after Errol Flynn, while animator Glen Keane reportedly based his design for Pocahontas on supermodel Christy Turlington. Comedian John Candy was slated to play a turkey sidekick named Redfeather, until his death in 1994; secondary animal characters including Flit the hummingbird and Meeko the raccoon originally had scripted dialogue, but this idea was scrapped when the filmmakers took a more serious route. Composer Alan Manken (Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin) teamed with lyricist Stephen Schwartz to write the songs for the film; "If I Never Knew You," a duet between Judy Kuhn and Mel Gibson, was cut from the movie following test screenings (but was later reinstated for the 10th anniversary DVD release). Pocahontas grossed over $346 million worldwide, and won Oscars for Best Score (Menken) and Best Song ("Colors Of The Wind"). Two of its voice actors, Irene Bedard (Pocahontas) and Christian Bale (Thomas), were later cast in different roles for The New World (2005) - director Terrence Malick's live-action rendition of the same story.

How It Broke New Ground: The first animated Disney Classic based on real-life historical figures. Its June 10th, 1995, world premiere - held in Central Park, NYC - currently holds the record for largest viewers in attendance (100,000).

How It Holds Up Today: It wasn't supposed to be this way. Heck, give me the choice between a talking animal picture, about a lion cub deposed by his evil uncle, and a sweeping revisionist take on the Pocahontas legend, and I'd choose the latter myself. But then something curious happened: The Lion King's hip comedy and epic grandeur struck a chord with audiences (to the tune of $772 million worldwide), while Pocahontas, for all its New Age philosophizing and one-note character types, simply did not. Of course, it doesn't help that the tone is so self-serious and dull - as if, in their quest to "enlighten" us to the wonders of Native American culture (and atone for the many accusations of racial insensitivity they'd engendered in the past), the animators forgot to give their movie a pulse. Instead, they rely on the hoariest of Disney clichès: the bodacious free-spirited heroine, the constant cutaways to cutesy animal critters, the scheming effeminate bad guy - it's all here. Even the songs - when they aren't beating you over the head with their pandering, Indians-are-people-too sort of tripe - sound like holdovers from Beauty And The Beast and The Little Mermaid. Critics may have balked at it, but for once they had a point: This is history rendered bloodless.

Grade: C


  1. I sooooo HATED this one!!! I don't even think I finished it!

  2. BIG Disney fan with several movies. This movie, however, did NOT ever make it to our library nor will it.