Personal Overview: being a bit of a history buff I knew the Pocahontas legend, both the one portrayed in this film and the belief that a lot of it was an invention by John Smith.
As a kid I actually used to get Pocahontas and Minnehaha confused. I have no idea why.
Disney took a real risk by portraying a real historical person involved in an event that is well known by many Americans as part of their history.
Despite it’s genuine origins and the dubiousness many feel about the truth of how John Smith represented events Disney chose to present it as a clash of cultures, love story. It’s almost Romeo and Juliet in the way it works.
They certainly attempted to garner a big audience by casting Mel Gibson as Smith. I’m not sure when he voiced this, but due to the release dates of the two films Gibson’s performance as Scottish patriot William Wallace in Braveheart would have been fresh in many moviegoers minds when Pocahontas hit the screens. Gibson was also reunited with old co star Linda Hunt from The Year of Living Dangerously as she voiced the speaking willow tree Grandmother Willow.
I went to see it with a friend, we enjoyed it as far as it went and as long as we didn’t think too hard about it. I found it difficult to ignore the historical inaccuracies and what I knew about what happened after. It’s unusual for a ‘Princess’ movie for a number of reasons, and one of those is that Pocahontas doesn’t actually get the guy. I had been a little concerned that they may revise history to give themselves the happy ever after ending.
Pocahontas would go on to become one of the official Disney Princesses.
Hero/es: you’re always playing with fire when you try to portray a real event. Pocahontas comes out of this pretty well, playing to script by saving John Smith from her father’s war club. Smith himself is very much a Disney male hero and stands up to the greedy social climber Ratcliffe (voiced with relish by David Ogden Stiers) and a pre Batman Christian Bale does a good job with Thomas, playing him as a kind of secondary hero to Smith.
Villain/s: they kind of wrong footed me here. I knew Ratcliffe was the bad guy in this from the moment he first appears. The clothes, the hair, that look like something bad smelling is under his nose the whole time, it just screams villain. He didn’t twirl his thin little moustaches, but he came close. Where they wrong footed me was with his pampered pug Percy. I thought Percy may have been a bit of a rat (pugs do like rather ratlike), but after a rocky beginning he turned out okay and actually made friends with Pocahontas’ raccoon friend Meeko.
Cuteness Factor: being at one with nature Pocahontas has two near constant friends. One of them is a hummingbird called Flit and the other is Meeko; the raccoon. The interaction between the two provides a lot of humour as well, like when Meeko causes Flit to get his pointy little beak jammed in the side of the canoe. Meeko’s constant search for food is also often amusing and from what I’ve heard about raccoons, pretty right on for behaviour, for all that Meeko is diurnal and real raccoons are nocturnal.
Animation: they tried hard, but I felt they only really got it right with the animals. The people appeared a bit flat. It may have been that they didn’t have the variety of coloured and elaborate costumes that they usually had to work with.
Final Words: it did quite well at the box office, although that they may have been flow on from the stunning success of The Lion King, the fact that Gibson was huge at the time and curiousity about how Disney would handle a genuine historical person and events. They managed to get a big of magic in there which I felt was odd, I’m not sure exactly what good it does, but Pocahontas seems to be able to harness some sort of natural power, mostly leaves fly about behind her in a trail when she’s running about the forest singing. It got enough criticism about historical inaccuracies that the company’s probably been scared off from covering real people and events for some time to come.