Disney Animated Marathon: Pocahontas (1995)


A misunderstood near masterpiece is movie #34 in the Disney Animated Marathon!

Written By: Carl Binder, Susannah Grant & Philip LaZebnik
Directed By: Mike Gabriel & Eric Goldberg

As I look over the Disney animated canon I don’t think a more misunderstood and wrongly maligned movie exists beyond Pocahontas. I passed on many chances to see this film for a long time because of all the middling whispers I had heard. Turns out Disney has crafted a brilliant film in Pocahontas, one that has led me to break out my misunderstood card, a card I don’t like to ever break out. When you say a film is misunderstood it implies that in some way your take on the film is the correct one and that all others are wrong. I don’t want people to think that is what I am saying when I claim that Pocahontas is a misunderstood film, but based on all I have heard about the movie and the reviews I have read I do feel the great majority missed the boat when it comes to Pocahontas.

First, let’s forget about the love story, if you are looking for a weakness in Pocahontas, that is the one glaring weakness, and the reason I refer to Pocahontas as a near masterpiece and not a full fledged masterpiece. The love story is never developed enough for us to care, but when all is said and done I don’t think the audience is supposed to treat the love story with any great affection. There’s also the issue of Pocahontas and John Smith magically learning to talk to one another, but Pocahontas has set itself up as a fantasy of sorts, so that is something you either buy or you don’t, and I didn’t have any major issues with that.

Let’s get back to the idea of Pocahontas being misunderstood, and specifically its lack of historical accuracy. I have never understood this complaint, movies are fiction, they don’t need to be nor should they be required to be historically accurate. The true history of John Smith and Pocahontas is much different than what you will find in this film, but the movie isn’t concerned with history. If you want the truth go read a history book, if you want mythic storytelling of the highest order then this movie is where it’s at.

I know that most people will scoff at the notion I am about to put forth, but the reason I find Pocahontas such a fascinating film is because it is without question the most adult feature I have ever seen from Disney. From start to finish this film isn’t concerned with political correctness or what its audience of children will be taught as they grow older, it’s only concern is with condemning mankind. It squashes the idea of a peaceful and perfect Indian society disturbed by the savage white man or of the well meaning white man coming across the ocean to tame the wild and out of control Indian. Pocahontas condemns both white man and Indian, through its exaggeration of the well known myths of both parties it slaps the audience in the face with the one great truth, all of humanity is responsible for various wrongs at one point or another.

Part of the presentation of Pocahontas’ themes that really grabbed me was the way that it used music. If you look deep into the music you can see why I view Pocahontas as a black comedy. The songs work off of one another, presenting contradictory information and ideals in such a way that all who sing are condemned with every word they utter. The character of Governor Ratcliffe in particular stands out in the musical department, none of his songs are especially rousing, but they are full of the dark comedic elements that are a major factor in my love of the film.

The more I think about it the less surprised I am at the amount of people who don’t like Pocahontas. It’s as close to an anti-Disney animated film that I can ever see Disney putting out. Yes, the movie does have a coating of sugar over it just as any Disney animated venture does, but that sugar quickly shakes off and underneath is a dark adult tome that one wouldn’t expect from the mouse. If you’ve already seen Pocahontas and were less than impressed then maybe you should give it a second chance. If you are a fresh pair of eyes then I can’t recommend Pocahontas enough. If you want to see adult Disney then this is the film you need to see, well this or some very weird flash animation that shouldn’t exist in the first place.




7 responses to “Disney Animated Marathon: Pocahontas (1995)

  1. Wow, you really read between the lines with this one. Unfortunately, it’s been too long since I’ve seen it to offer a confident rebuttal. I remember thinking it was alright, but didn’t hold the dramatic weight that the 3 or 4 previous Disney films had. For that reason it did feel like a minor ( and I stress, a minor) downgrade.

    That ‘Paint with the Colours of the Wind’ song is pretty cool though. Don’t know why I still remember that part…

  2. You probably remember that song because it’s so damn catchy.

  3. Excellent Bill. How would you compare this to “The New World” by Terrence Malick?

  4. Terrence Malick as ‘wishy washy’? That’s the first time I hear something like that.

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  7. Steven – I would need to see The New World again, preferably the extended cut, but they are obviously very different yet at the same time they try for a lot of the same things.

    I actually think Pocahontas succeeds where The new World doesn’t, and that is with it’s depictions of the Indians. Malick is too wishy-washy for my liking in The New World, one second he paints them as just as bad as the white man, then the next he paints their culture as something to be looked at as pure and far better than the white man.

    Maybe the extended cut will help my problems, but as of right now I prefer Pocahontas over The New World by a fair bit.

    Edgar – In The New World I really think he is wishy-washy. He can’t figure out how he wants to portray the Native American tribes, and it hurts the film.

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