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Pocahontas (1995)

An American legend comes to life

Directed by:

Eric Goldberg

Mike Gabriel

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 81 minutes

US Certificate: G UK Certificate: U

On DVD

Country: United States

By all accounts, ‘Pocahontas’ largely ignores the true story of the Native American girl who helped maintain peace in the 17th Century settlement of Jamestown and then made for England where she became something of a celebrity – which is a bit bizarre, because the real version actually sounds more interesting than what we get here. But no, Disney have a strict blueprint to follow, and if there’s one thing past experience has taught us, it’s that history stands little chance of emerging intact once the Mouse House juggernaut starts a-rolling.

It would seem the tale we’re spoon-fed here merely pays lip-service to the person Pocahontas really was, and only to a very early part of her story at that. The 1995 toon – which wasn’t helped at the time of its theatrical release by the immense pressure of having to follow 92’s Aladdin and 94’s The Lion King – portrays her as the sort of woman who’ll invariably be standing on the edge of a cliff-face looking noble and pensive whenever anyone’s looking for her. We all know the type.

When the idyllic lifestyle of her and her people is interrupted by the arrival of gun-toting settlers, it looks like there’ll be some serious bloodshed required to resolve the conflict. But there’s a glimmer of hope when our heroine (voiced by Irene Bedard) crosses the cultural divide to meet – and, of course, fall in love with – visiting captain John Smith (who looks a bit like Zack from ‘Saved by the Bell’, but is voiced by Mel Gibson). Oh, and in case you’re wondering how they get through the obvious language barrier, they do it by peddling the tenuous adage “listen to your heart, and you will understand.” Yeah, right – good luck with relying on THAT when it comes to ordering a meal in France.

The film’s moralizing over which side are REALLY the “savages” could do with being a little more subtle, and certainly a lot less naïve. And, while I’m picking faults, the blossoming romance between Pokey and John isn’t particularly believable in comparison to Aladdin and Princess Jasmine’s courtship in ‘Aladdin’, or even Belle’s dalliance with ol’ Hairy Features in ‘Beauty and the Beast’.

Still, there’s little denying that ‘Pocahontas’ does hold a certain amiable, if restrictive, charm. The superfluous cutesy companions (in this case a racoon, a woodpecker, and a dog, all of which are thankfully spared speaking voices) are less annoying than is sometimes the case, the music’s solid if not quite of the “classic” variety, and the rich, sweeping artwork is marvellous to take in.

In the end though, ‘Pocahontas’ just can’t live up to the immense standards Disney set itself at the end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s with all-time greats like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and the afore-mentioned Aladdin and The Lion King. Indeed, this could well be seen as the first sign of the impending down-turn in Disney’s fortunes: only a few months after this one came out, Toy Story (carrying the Disney moniker but made externally by Pixar) swept global box offices, and subsequent in-house productions like ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’, ‘Hercules’ and Mulan all struggled to keep up with the CGI pioneers.

It's Got: A massively unsatisfying conclusion – although that’s still no excuse for the sequel.

It Needs: To do without Mel Gibson’s singing.

DVD Extras This brand new Special Edition release contains two discs, jam-packed with audio commentaries, abandoned concepts, deleted animation, a ‘Making Of’ documentary, interactive games, karaoke sing-a-longs, the Vanessa Williams music video ‘Colours of the Wind’, and even some arts-and-crafts ideas (Fancy making your own dreamcatcher or drum? Well there are instructions here! What do you mean “no”??). Edition reviewed: Pocahontas Special Edition see also Pocahontas (10th Anniversary Edition) - Amazon.com DVD Extras Rating: 9/10

Alternatives:

Brother Bear, Mulan, Mulan II, Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World, Tarzan, The Little Mermaid

Summary

The message is a bit clunky and the story suffers through its lack of willingness to take any risks with the tried-and-tested Disney formula – but it’s not bad.

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One Comment

  1. samuel welsh
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 3:57 am | Permalink

    very beautiful movie.
    however partually misleading as pokahauntas had no intrust in jhon smith and playing down european infulences in jamestown.

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