Steve’s Wonderful Reviews of Disney: Pocahontas

Pocahontas

Release Date: June 23rd, 1995

Inspiration: The story of Pocahontas

Budget: $55 million

Domestic Gross: $141.5 million

Worldwide Gross: $346.1 million

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 55%

IMDB Score: 6.7/10

Storyline (per IMDB): This is the Disney animated tale of the romance between a young Native American woman named Pocahontas (Irene Bedard) and Captain John Smith (Mel Gibson), who journeyed to the New World with other settlers to begin fresh lives. Her powerful father, Chief Powhatan (Russell Means), disapproves of their relationship and wants her to marry a native warrior. Meanwhile, Smith’s fellow Englishmen hope to rob the Native Americans of their gold. Can Pocahontas’ love for Smith save the day?

Pre-Watching Thoughts: We continue on through the 1990s with a film that falls into the same boat as a couple of other films prior to it in that some people believe that it is underrated while others think that it is a disappointment considering the films that came right before it. This is another film that was a favorite of mine growing up though it wasn’t as much of a favorite as some of the other films that I loved, and we will see if this film does hold up though I will say I’m not expecting our fourth straight perfect film.

Voice Cast: We have another fresh cast to talk about here with a few big names and one in particular that was just really getting started, and we do have a few actors return after appearing in some films prior to this. Starting with the returning actors, we have David Ogden Stiers who voices Gov. Ratcliffe along with his manservant Wiggins as he would become a mainstay over the years, and then we have the return of Jim Cummings as he provides the singing voices for Chief Powhatan and Kekata and finally we have Frank Welker who voices Flit the hummingbird in a minor role. We now move onto our new actors as we have Irene Bedard who voices Pocahontas in one of her first roles of her career, and we also have Judy Kahn who provides the singing voice for Pocahontas as this was starting to become more common. Next, we have star Mel Gibson who voices John Smith as he was at the height of his career at this point, and a note is voice actor Jess Harnell who provides additional singing dialogue to support Gibson. We then have John Kassir who voices Meeko the raccoon as he was in the prime of his career at this point, and then we have Russell Means who voices Chief Powhatan in what would be the biggest role of his career. Next, we have Christian Bale who voices Thomas as he was just getting his career started and had earlier appeared in another Disney film “Newsies”, and then we have Billy Connolly and Joe Baker who voice Ben and Lon respectively in a pair of minor roles. We then have Linda Hunt who voices Grandmother Willow as she was approaching the peak of her career, and then we have Danny Mann who voices Percy the pug as he was in the midst of the best run of his career at this point. Next, we have Michelle St. John who voices Nakoma in what was probably her biggest film role of her career, and then we have James Apaumut Fall who voices Kocoum in what would be his biggest role and finally we have Gordon Tootoosis who voices Kekata as he was in the prime of his career to this point. One thing I would like to point out was that they were smart to have some Native American actors be involved as it did help bring some authenticity to the roles.

Hero/Prince: We have perhaps our most interesting hero to talk about here in that it is the first one that was an actual person in real life as opposed to the other ones, and that is the English explorer John Smith who travels to the New World and settles in Jamestown. He wishes to explore the new land that they have settled in and he meets Pocahontas whom he starts to fall in love with, and she informs him that there is no gold in the area as tensions between the Native Americans and the English settlers grows. He has an encounter with Kocoum who is betrothed to Pocahontas and they fight which ends in John’s friend Thomas killing Kocoum, and John takes responsibility for the death and Chief Powhatan declares war on the English while planning to execute John. Just before things come to a head, Pocahontas convinces her father to spare John which he does and the two groups agree to end their squabble, but Gov. Ratcliffe tries to kill Powhatan only for John to shield him and take the bullet himself. John survives and is nursed partially to health by the Native Americans, but he is brought home to England for a full recovery though he is welcomed to return by Powhatan while Pocahontas stays behind. John is an adventurous man who welcomes the chance to go to a new land and he is initially hostile to the Natives, but when he meets Pocahontas she teaches him the ways of her people and he warms to her. He is seen as a leader by his fellow Englishmen, in particular Thomas who he takes under his wing to the point that he takes responsibility for Kocoum’s death to save Thomas, and after Pocahontas is willing to sacrifice herself to save him he does the same when Ratcliffe attempts to kill Powhatan. While he probably won’t rank too high compared to the other heroes in the canon, he is still a pretty memorable character in a less than memorable film.

Princess: Much like our hero, we have our first princess that was alive in real life and that is the Native American known as Matoaka, or as she is better known as Pocahontas who is the daughter of Chief Powhatan. Her father tells her that the warrior Kocoum wishes to take her hand in marriage, but she is hesitant as she is confused with how her life should go and she looks to her Grandmother Willow for advice. At that time, the English settlers arrive and she is enamored by them though her tribe is hostile towards them, and she ends up meeting John Smith whom she begins to teach the ways of the land to and they start to fall in love. Her father tells her to stay away from them and she meets John in secret only for Kocoum to attack him, and Thomas kills Kocoum to save John who takes the blame for his death and he is sentenced to die. John leaves her a compass as a memento and she interprets it as the arrow from her dream, and she prevents her father from executing John as she proclaims her love for him and she convinces her father to stop the fighting. He agrees as do the Englishmen aside from Gov. Ratcliffe who attempts to kill Powhatan only for John to take the bullet instead, and John returns to England to heal while Pocahontas stays behind and she watches as his ship sets sail. Pocahontas is a strong willed character with a free spirit though as mentioned, she is not sure of the path she should take especially after her father wishes her to marry Kocoum. She takes it upon herself to teach John the ways of her people and she believes this is her way, so much so that she is willing to sacrifice her own life to save him and bring peace between her tribe and the Englishmen. She is one of the more intriguing princesses in history and it will be interesting to see where she ranks amongst the other princesses.

Villain: We complete the trifecta of the main characters having also been real life figures as we have the villain of the film in Governor John Ratcliffe who heads up the voyage to the New World, and his main goal of the voyage is to find gold and further his ambitions. He is adamant that there is gold even when they can’t find any and he assumes that the Native Americans are hiding it, and when John Smith tells them that there is no gold Ratcliffe refuses to believe it. After Thomas tells the Englishmen that the Native Americans have captured John, Ratcliffe rallies them to war and they are about to begin a battle until Pocahontas saves John and Powhatan decides not to start a war. Ratcliffe attempts to start war anyway though the Englishmen refuse to do so and he attempts to kill Powhatan, but John saves Powhatan and takes the bullet instead as the Englishmen revolt against Ratcliffe and plan to take him back to England where he will be tried to treason. Ratcliffe is a typical villain in that he puts on this front of making lavish promises to the settlers, but plans to take all the glory for himself and thinks nothing of killing the Native Americans as he believes they are keeping gold that doesn’t exist. Even after the settlers and Native Americans are willing to end the conflict and bring peace, he attempts to kill Powhatan though John saves him and the settlers finally bring Ratcliffe down and he is to pay for his crimes. He is about as average a villain as you can get as he is not as memorable as other ones, but he is still better than some in the canon and he will probably be a good baseline villain in ranking the villains.

Other Characters: This is another film where we see a lot of people to fill out the crowd, but only a few of them matter to the film and are vital to the plot. We will start with the few animals we have with the first one being Meeko the raccoon who is Pocahontas’ best friend, and he is skeptical of Kocoum while quickly warming to John Smith though part of that is due to John giving him biscuits. He develops a rivalry with Percy the pug and they come to a head in Grandmother Willow’s glen until she demands they stop, and eventually they become friends and Meeko gives John a biscuit for his journey. Speaking of Percy, we have him next as he is Gov. Ratcliffe’s spoiled dog and carries himself with an air of royalty, but after his feud with Meeko and they become friends he decides to stay behind and be at Pocahontas’ side. We finally have Flit the hummingbird who is also Pocahontas’ friend though he isn’t as trusting to John as Meeko is, and he and Meeko are often at odds though they support each other and finally Flit accepts John as his friend. Moving onto the humans in the film, we first have Thomas who is a young sailor on his first big trip and he is enamored with John, and John takes him under his wing as Thomas ends up killing Kocoum in an effort to save John. He is constantly belittled by Ratcliffe until the end when he stands up to him and leads the revolt, and he accompanies John as they return to England so John can be healed. We then have Ben and Lon who are two more settlers as well as being friends with John, and they try to find him in Grandmother Willow’s glen only for Grandmother Willow to scare them away. They are set to fight the Native Americans until Powhatan declares peace and they side with Thomas against Ratcliffe, and they stay behind in the settlement as John is sent back to England. The last of the settlers to talk about is Wiggins who is the servant of Ratcliffe and he is staunchly loyal to him, but he does not fight back when Ratcliffe is bound by the settlers only to lament the path that led to this. We then have Pocahontas’ father Chief Powhatan who is the leader of the tribe and after a scrum breaks out, he is adamant in facing the Englishmen in war and becomes convinced of it after Kocoum is killed despite Pocahontas’ pleas. He leads the tribe to war and is set to execute John Smith until Pocahontas attempts to sacrifice herself, and Powhatan agrees to stand down and he calls John his brother after John takes a bullet for him to save his life. We then have the warrior Kocoum who is a mighty fighter and asks to marry Pocahontas though she is against it, and when he finds her and John Smith together he tries to kill John only for Thomas to kill Kocoum and John is held responsible for the death. We then have Nakoma who is Pocahontas’ best friend and she is skeptical of her relationship with John, and she sends Kocoum after them which leads to Kocoum getting killed though Pocahontas forgives her and they remain friends. We then have the shaman Kekata who has a minor role as he tries to heal the tribe after their encounters with the settlers, and he is behind Powhatan when he declares war as he prepares the warriors for battle. Finally, we have Grandmother Willow who is a tree that guides Pocahontas and supports her relationship with John, and she leads Pocahontas down her chosen path when she chooses to be with John. Again, we do have a lot of background characters that fill out crowds and most of the focus was on a few characters, but that’s fine since you don’t want certain scenes to feel too crowded with important characters.

Songs: We continue with the current template of films by having them be done like a Broadway musical brought the big screen, and amazingly enough this film actually has more songs than any of the previous films which feels a bit weird. There are certain instances where a film has more songs than it probably should and they just feel tacked on, and if they feel out of place it doesn’t help the film and it only makes it feel a bit bloated. The first song in the film is “The Virginia Company” which is sung at the beginning of the film and it really feels unnecessary in all honesty, and then we have a far superior song with “Steady as the Beating Drum” sung by the Native Americans as a showcase of their culture. We then have “Just Around the Riverbend” sung by Pocahontas which is a good song as she looks to the future, and then we have “Listen With Your Heart” sung by Grandmother Willow as she tries to help guide Pocahontas down her path. Next, we have the song “Mine, Mine, Mine” sung by the settlers as they are digging for gold and it is a solid song that shows Ratcliffe’s true intentions, and then we have the centerpiece song of the film “Colors of the Wind” which is a tremendous song sung beautifully by Pocahontas as she shows John how the world is much bigger than he thinks. Finally, we have the song “Savages” which is an intense song as the settlers and Native Americans prepare for war, and in the end most of these songs were fine fits for the film aside from the first one and it works out fine as a musical film.

Plot: As I have mentioned a few times in this recap, this is really the first film based on a historical figure aside from King Arthur in “The Sword in the Stone”, and also Robin Hood though it is still debated whether he was a real person or not. Obviously, anyone who knows the real story behind Pocahontas and John Smith knows that what Disney put on the screen is far different than what the real life versions were like. In this film, Pocahontas lives with her tribe led by her father as John Smith and the English settlers arrive in Virginia, and Gov. Ratcliffe is set on finding gold though they end up coming to blows with the Native Americans. During this time, Pocahontas and John meet and get close as she shows him the ways of her people while letting him know there is no gold, and John tries to relay this to the settlers though Ratcliffe believes he is lying. John meets with Pocahontas in Grandmother Willow’s glen where Kocoum finds them and he tries to kill John, but John’s fellow sailor Thomas shoots and kills Kocoum though John sends him away and he is taken prisoner by the tribe. They prepare to execute him as the two groups are ready to go to war only for Pocahontas to intervene, and she begs her father to make peace which he does as he sets John free and John protects him when Ratcliffe tries to kill him. The settlers bring John back to England so he can be healed and Pocahontas stays behind to keep the peace between the tribe and the remaining settlers. As mentioned, the real life versions of Pocahontas and John Smith are far different from the way they are portrayed in the film, and obviously Disney had to take some liberties to make the film friendly towards kids which they did a fine job as. I do wonder how many watched this film and believed that was a faithful representation of the characters, and then they learned about them and were stunned to know the truth though if anything it brought some new eyes on these figures.

Random Watching Thoughts: So instead of a storybook beginning, we have a historical picture to start the film off; The Virginia Company told them that they would be rich and free, but they don’t definitively assure them of this; It’s so weird hearing Christian Bale in this film knowing 10 years later he would become Batman, and it feels bizarre hearing Mel Gibson in a Disney film; Why does it seem like every time we see a ship sailing across the ocean, it has to at some point survive a terrible storm?; He asks John if he’s crazy after he’s jumped off the ship; John just nearly sacrificed his life by saving Thomas and all he can say is that it was refreshing; John believes that they would do the same for him and they clearly wouldn’t by their reaction; Of course the second Ratcliffe comes out on the deck is when the storm subsides; John asks how this New World is different than the other ones he’s visited, oh if only he knew; I looked it up and the Algonquin tribe was much larger than I realized, spanning throughout the Northeast, parts of the Midwest, and mostly in Canada; The tribe Powhatan says they defeated were part of the Iroquois tribe; Pocahontas, the original cliff diver; Meeko should’ve realized how high the cliff was before jumping and realizing it was a bad idea; Of course Meeko’s stripes and tail would look like a bulls-eye for Flit; Flit is all for Kocoum marrying Pocahontas and Meeko is against it; She does make a good point that the water in a river is always flowing so technically you can’t step in the same water twice; This has to be the Powhatan River she’s traveling; The animals are so excited to hear the story until Grandmother Willow tells them to be quiet; A spinning arrow pointing out the path to take; Pocahontas has obviously never seen a ship before if she mistakes the sails for clouds; Kudos to Wiggins for wanting to give gift baskets to the Native Americans; I always find it interesting how they come to a new land and believe the natives are savages even though they are all human, just different cultures; So John Smith not only helped settle Jamestown, he also had a hand in settling Plymouth as well; How can three men be strong enough to pull that large ship into port?; Are there no raccoons in England?; Meeko quickly became addicted to those biscuits; Kocoum was ready to fight the settlers even though they knew nothing about them and just assumed they were invaders; Percy is the most pampered pug I have ever seen; Percy spent all that time taking a bath and then he falls into a mud puddle seconds later; Yes the Spanish found gold, but it was in Mexico and South America while there was no confirmation that there was gold in the future United States; Ratcliffe has got some grandiose ideas and is so confident they will find gold; I do love the opposite views as Ratcliffe only cares about the gold while John is there to find adventure; How bad would it have been if John actually shot and killed Pocahontas?; It is a bit head scratching that the Native Americans somehow know English without having met the English prior to their arriving; Flit wants to go after John yet Meeko casually holds him by the tail; Considering that we’ve only seen a handful of the settlers throughout the film, it’s amazing that there were more than 100 that came over; Ratcliffe takes one bite from that drumstick and then tosses it aside, talk about a waste; This doesn’t seem like a fair fight as the Native Americans just have bows and arrows while the English have muskets; Poor Wiggins spent all that time on the shrubbery only for the unicorn head to be shot off; Of course the wound is strange to Kekata, they’ve never had to deal with gunshot wounds before; I looked it up and “Winggapo” actually means “Welcome, friend”; I would say London is a very big village even in the early 1600s; This was a fine line for Disney to walk in regards to the racism and how to overcome it; I think it is safe to say that “Colors of the Wind” is perhaps the most powerful song that has been done to this point; That’s a lot of trees that they cut down in the span of a few days; That’s quite the apparatus that Percy has for his various bones; Wiggins actually went out of his way to make a gag arrow; It seems like the last people to have gold would be the Native Americans; I never thought raccoons would like dog bones; John was prepared for Flit by having that biscuit up to block his attack; Meeko has quite the stash of objects in his tree there; So in Pocahontas’ mind, corn is gold; John looks like he’s seen a ghost when he sees Grandmother Willow; Her bark is worse than her bite, even the owls were unimpressed with the pun; She still has snap in her old vines; Again, Pocahontas makes a good point that they should try talking first, but it’s hard when the first instinct is to fight; Ratcliffe says there’s no room for the Native Americans in their civilized land, but the Native Americans are way more civilized than them; I know Nakoma was concerned for Pocahontas, but if she knew what would happen she probably wouldn’t have told Kocoum; John makes a good, but sad point that once two sides want to fight, no one can stop them because we still see it to this day; Considering that this film came out in 1995, there are lessons from it that we can still learn 25 years later; Kocoum was so fixated on killing John that he showed no remorse when pushing Pocahontas aside; The time Thomas finally learns to shoot properly and it leads to trouble; Notice how when Kocoum falls into the water, we don’t see a single bullet wound; Powhatan was so angry with Pocahontas that he fails to ask about why she’s not wearing her mother’s necklace; It’s like John to say that he’s been in worse scrapes than this; I wonder if Ratcliffe was thinking about sacrificing John just so he can kill the Native Americans and take the gold; The English arrive to this New World, immediately claim it for their own, and plot to drive the Native Americans from it even though they’ve been there for God knows how long, and they declare them evil because they are different from them; The visual of the two war clouds coming together is quite the striking scene; Leave it to Meeko stealing the compass from John to find out later that it is representative of the spinning arrow in Pocahontas’ dream; This sequence of Pocahontas singing while her tribe and the English prepare for war is a scene I don’t think gets talked about enough for how amazing it is; This is a pretty powerful message how courage and understanding can overcome anger and fear; Again, we see John get shot yet they don’t show blood or a wound; Ratcliffe started as the leader of this voyage and now he returns to England as cargo; John still trying to act tough by saying he’s been in worse pain than this; Percy has affectively switched sides and joins with the tribe; Are we to assume that Meeko, Percy, and Flit somehow managed to fix Pocahontas’ necklace?; We started with a historical picture and we end with a historical picture.

Overall Thoughts: Overall, I didn’t have high expectations going into this film and I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed the film. While the film is not perfect and is a step down from the previous three films, it is still a pretty good film that I don’t think gets enough credit for how good it actually is. As I mentioned, there are some themes from this film that still matter now in 2020 even though the film came out 25 years ago which is crazy to think about. The 1990s have been a great decade for Disney thus far as the Disney Renaissance had just hit its peak with the last three films, and we will how the decade comes to an end as we hit a stretch of films that many still consider pretty underrated. As for this film, it is a really good film and one that surprised me with how good it really was.

Final Grade: 7.5/10

Author: Steve Riddle

I have been a wrestling fan since 1993 and that is probably my biggest love, with movies being a close second due in part to being employed at a movie theater for over 9 years.