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“We’d been working it on it for a couple of months and then Jeffrey calls a “breakfast meeting”. And in the meeting, we have the whole crew from Pocahontas and Lion King. And Jeffrey said “Pocahontas is a home run! It’s West Side Story/Romeo and Juliet with American Indians! It’s a smash hit! Lion King on the other hand, it’s kind of an experiment, we don’t really know if people are going to want to see it.””
Rob Minkoff, Co-director of The Lion King.
- I’m not going to mark this movie down for its inaccurate portrayal of
Indians, Native Americans, American Indians, Amerindians, Native Peoples…
- I’m not going to mark this movie down for its historical inaccuracy.
- I’m not going to mark this down for failing to address the issues of genocide, forced relocations, slavery et al.
Under the guidance of the Katzenberg/Eisner/Disney triumvirate the Disney animation studio had gone from being a financial liability to a money making machine. Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Lion King. One after the other.
Four of the biggest animated movies, hell, four of the biggest movies of all time in a six year span. Couple that record box office take with equally record breaking VHS sales and merchandising and you are talking about a billion dollar enterprise. I wouldn’t be surprised if years later it turned out that the real reason Katzenberg left was that Eisner kept cheating during their daily money fights. And, to their credit, Katzenberg and Eisner made sure plenty of that money got to the people who made it all possible. Suddenly, the animators’ parking lot was filling up each day with Bentleys and Jaguars. Generous bonuses were being lavished all around and the animation wing had a brand new state-of-the-art office building built just for them. But there was a cost to all this. Whereas the animation studio that Walt Disney had founded would slowly and methodically work on one film, release it, and then start on the next, Roy Disney had decreed that a new full length animated film would be released every year. As well as working on Pocahontas, the animation studio was finishing off Lion King, prepping for Hunchback of Notre Dame and working on A Goofy Movie and Nightmare Before Christmas. This massive workload resulted in long hours, stress and more than a few ruined marriages. And the toll wasn’t merely psychological either. Watch interviews and footage of the Disney animators of this period and you’ll see a lot of people rubbing their wrists, flexing and unflexing their fingers, squinting…we don’t normally think of artistic fields of endeavour as being physically gruelling but animation can put an absolutely brutal toll on the human body. Then of course there was the tragic death of Frank Wells, a huge psychic shock to the company made worse by the ugly fallout and Katzenberg’s departure from Disney.
I think all these factors, the over-work, the shock of Wells’ death, the sheer weight of expectation to keep the gravy train on the tracks and the bad blood caused by Katzenberg’s departure all combined to make Pocahontas a thoroughly miserable experience for the animators to work on. I have no proof of that, maybe it was an endless merry go round of delight, but it sure as hell doesn’t feel that way. There is a sense of joylessness that pervades this thing, like everyone was just gritting their teeth and thinking of the paycheck.
We’re also introduced to John Smith, subtly, I might add, by all the sailors standing around and saying stuff like “Say, is that JOHN SMITH? Is JOHN SMITH coming on this voyage? Sure! You can’t fight Indians without JOHN SMITH!”
Smith is voiced by Mel Gibson. You know, it’s easy to make fun of Mel Gibson…
Smith boards the ship in a manner that subtly hints that he is a macho, manly man of manishness.
And the ship sets sail. We cut to a storm battering the vessel and Smith and Thomas work desperately together to stop their massive iron phalluses from going overboard. A wave washes Thomas into the sea and Ben (Billy Connolly) yells to stay on course because he’s already lost. Okay, firstly? Dick move on Ben’s part. He’s just fallen into the sea, it’s not like he touched the floor in a game of Hot Lava. Unless Thomas is related to the Wicked Witch of the West, he should still be alive. Second…why the fuck is there a Scottish sailor on this English voyage? Scotland and England were still two separate countries at this point, and in fact Scotland would embark on its own attempt to colonise the Americas a few decades after this movie is set.
I know, I know. Rule 2. Still irks me, though.
Well, mortal men may be powerless in the face of water, but that dastardly compound hasn’t reckoned with JOHN SMITH! Smith leaps into the water to rescue Thomas and Ben calls after him “Are you crazy?!”
This review is simultaneously too hard, and too easy.
Smith rescues Thomas and the other sailors pull them back on board. They congratulate Smith who says “Of course, you’d all do the same for me.” and the other sailors look really awkward.
We now properly meet our villain, Ratcliffe, played by David Ogden Stiers. Hmmm…Ratcliffe, Ratcliffe. What are we to make of you? Well, he’s definitely one of the best things in the movie, Stiers does good work and he does get some of the better lines. But…the whole concept of this character seems lazy to me. He’s an evil upper class British villain in a Disney movie. Feel that? That’s the ground being broken beneath your feet by this movie’s staggering innovation. But that’s not even the problem. Ratcliffe probably would have made a perfectly acceptable villain for something lighter and more comedic like, say, Robin Hood. But this is (supposedly) a serious movie. This movie is trying to grapple with the themes of prejudice and xenophobia (in much the same way that a fish pulled onto a boat and smacked with an oar is trying to swim). To do that, the movie needs a villain who can effectively embody those problems. Ratcliffe, to put it bluntly, is not threatening. He’s a foppish, greedy, not particularly bright oaf. So when the movie has to rely on him to provide the dramatic stakes in the climax of the final act the whole thing just collapses like a wet cake. Oh, we also meet Wiggins, Ratcliffe’s devoted personal assistant who adores and unquestioningly serves his evil employer despite himself being perfectly nice and likeable wait just a damn minute here!
Honestly Wiggins is…well, not the saving grace of the movie because that would imply that the movie is capable of being saved. But he is hands down my favorite character in this entire clusterbollocks. He’s also voiced by Stiers, making him far and away the movie’s MVP. Oh, and lastly we meet Percy, a pug who serves as Ratcliffe’s little animal sidekick. Because this movie…this FUCKING movie…does not so much feature animal sidekicks as it is infested by them.
Ratcliffe feigns relief that Thomas isn’t all drowned and shit and rallies the weary men by appealing to their patriotism. Wiggins praises Ratcliffe’s speech, saying the men were greatly cheered by it and Ratcliffe says “I hope so. I’ll need those witless peasants to dig up my gold.”
Thomas says how much he’s looking forward to the New World and all the genociding they’ll be doing. No, I’m not kidding. He outright says he’s coming for gold and land and if any Indian tries to stop him he’ll straight up cap him.
But the other sailors say that nobody, fucking nobody, kills Indians like JOHN SMITH kills Indians. And then Mel Gibson sings a song about killing Indians. Badly. It’s really all, quite, quite horrible.
Thomas and Smith climb up to the crows nest for some male bonding and Thomas asks Smith what he thinks the New World will be like. Smith is all “Tchah! Whatevs!” saying that he doesn’t expect it to be all that special and that he’s seen “hundreds of new worlds.”
We now move to the Powhatan village on the coast of what will one day be Virginia and the title credits finally deign to grace us with their presence a full five goddamn minutes into the movie.
We get our first proper song of the movie (The Virginia Company is really more of a snippet) Steady as a Beating Drum. The songs for the movie were done by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz and I know a lot of you seem to think that if this movie has a saving grace it’s the songs and the animation. Honestly, I’m not hugely keen on either but this particular song is not too bad. Rule 1 prohibits me from discussing whether or not the Native American music style used to evoke the Powhatans is accurate or not. As I said, I don’t really know enough to go swinging my snark around. But I will say this; when my ethnomusicologist wife watches this scene she starts grinding her teeth and bleeding from the ears.
So we see the Powhatans doing typically Native American stuff like fishing, farming corn and summoning smoke demons.
The tribe are celebrating because Chief Powhatan has returned from battle, having showed those pathetic Massawomecks what’s what. Powhatan is played by Russell Means, an absolutely fascinating individual who is about to make me the biggest fucking hypocrite in the world. See, despite the Anglo sounding name, Means was an Indian (Oglala/Lakota Sioux and before you get up in my grill he preferred the term to “Native American”.) He was the first national leader of the American Indian Movement, ran for president on the Libertarian ticket and was involved in the AIM’s occupation of Wounded Knee and the subsequent standoff against the federal government. He was also an actor, author, musician and a lifelong champion for the rights of native peoples. Now, right off the bat, full props to Disney for actually getting a Native American actor to play this part. But unfortunately that doesn’t change the fact that Means is…well…
He’s awful. I’m sorry. He is. He’s stilted, lifeless, almost totally emotionless. It is a terrible, terrible performance. I guess you could say the ends don’t justify the Means.
Oh God, I am the worst liberal in the world. I feel like dirt. Somewhere, in some dark dimension, Rush Limbaugh is feeding on my anguish.
Well anyway, Powhatan realises that we are almost eight minutes in an our main character still hasn’t appeared. He asks Kekata (Gordon Tootoosis) where she is, and Kekata says that “She has mother’s spirit. She goes where the wind takes her.”
The wind then takes us on a magical journey to where Pocahontas is standing on a ledge overlooking a waterfall and just, y’know, being one with nature.
Okay. First thing’s first. Pocahontas is voiced by Irene Bedard, an Inuit actress who is damn good. Seriously, she gives an excellent performance. But the part as written is just awful. I can’t stand Pocahontas for reasons I will get into as we go on. Pocahontas’ BFF Nakoma (Michelle St. John), calls up to her that her father’s returned home and that she’s probably done enough posing for one day. Yeah, you’d think her father returning home from a war would justify leaving the landscape to appreciate its own majesty for a few hours to actually wait for him to come home but nope. Standing on the cliff and listening to all the secrets of the wind is apparently more important than making sure her father is still in one piece. Pocahontas turns to
Redundant Animal Sidekick #1 Flit, her hummingbird friend (voiced by Frank Welker who has appeared in so many movies, his Bacon number is NEGATIVE) and says “He’s back Flit!” (right, ‘cos you were contorted with worry). She runs past Redundant Animal Sidekick #2 Meeko, her little racoon chum (voiced by John Kassir) but then stops, and instead of just walking to the bottom of the cliff like a sane person, she decides to dive into the water from at least two hundred feet and give poor Nakoma a heart attack. I like Nakoma, as she’s pretty much the only Native American character in this that managed to sneak a personality out of the personality box when the writers weren’t looking.
This is more of a personal thing, but it really pisses me off. When I see this scene, I’m not thinking “Oh, how gracefully she dives, like the swooping eagle!” I’m thinking “You’re endangering your life and scaring the shit out of your friend for no reason whatsoever.” She’s like those kids you see riding around with no hands on the handlebars.
Meeko then jumps after her, loses his nerve halfway through and tries to use Flit to break his fall.
So let me ask you a question. Why are Meeko and Flit here? What is their purpose in the story?
This is what happens when formula becomes the driving force behind a creative work. There is no reason for Flit and Meeko to be in this movie, they’re here because it worked in Little Mermaid and Aladdin and they’re here because Disney needed something that could be made into happy meal toys. This is why Flit and Meeko and Percy run around like they’re in another cartoon, vestigial little animated tumours growing out of the main story that don’t effect it in any way. And they’re here because no one had the guts to say “Fuck it. Lose the raccoon and the hummingbird. They’re dead weight.”
Pocahontas tips Nakoma’s canoe over and starts a splash fight with her.
And outside the boat, Meeko and Flit engage in a little empty comic business.
Flit tries to stab Meeko with his beak but ends up getting embedded into the wood of the canoe. Nakoma and Pocahontas then turn the boat over and Flit is trapped under the water. Drowning. Hoping against hope that his futile, empty little existence may at last come to an end. Nakoma asks if Pocahontas was thinking about “the dream” while she was up there and Pocahontas says she knows it means something, but gosh darn it she just can’t think what it is. She then casually reaches into the water and pulls Flit out. Because she knew he was there the whole time. She just wanted him to come to the very brink of death before pulling him back into his hellish, never ending cycle of meaningless capering.
Bitch is pure. Fucking. EVIL.
They arrive back at the village where Papa Powhatan is honouring Kocoum, who apparently killed more of those pitiful Massawomeck goons than anyone else. Pocahontas greets her father who says “Seeing you gives me great joy.”
You know what’s interesting? If the script and performance were able to show that Powhatan was happy to see Pocahontas, he wouldn’t actually have to say it. It’s a little trick called “good film-making”. This scene is one of the most frustrating for me because even though this is a Disney Renaissance movie on total autopilot it should still be able to do the one thing that the Disney movies of the Renaissance did better than those of any other period: depicting the relationships between fathers and daughters. Think about it. Triton and Ariel, Belle and Maurice, Jasmine and the Sultan. These were relationships that were all unique, multi-layered and most importantly authentic. When Triton and Ariel are having a blazing row, when Belle pleads with the Beast for her father’s life it always felt real. You bought it. This movie fails in part because the filmmakers are afraid to let Pocahontas and Powhatan be flawed, real characters. They’re not real people they’re..fucking…nobility mannequins!
Pocahontas tells Powhatan about her dream because he must be interested in that, right? I mean, who wouldn’t be? It’s her dream. She tells him that she thinks it means something exciting is going to happen and Powhatan agrees, telling her “Kocoum has asked to seek your hand in marriage.” It’s actually impressive to work that much clunkiness and redundancy into a nine word sentence. Fuck’s sake, you don’t “seek” to ask something! You ask, or you seek! God!
Pocahontas then has the temerity to say “Marry Kocoum? But he’s so…serious.”
I…I can’t muster enough sarcasm for this. I need to call in an expert. SMOWE?
Pocahontas just said she can’t marry Kocoum because he’s “too serious”.
Thank you, Maestro.
Pocahontas says that she thinks that her dream is pointing her down a different path (and really, not enough consideration is being given to what the dream wants here). Powhatan tells her that it’s time to take her place among their people (as opposed to…what?) and gives her a necklace that belonged to her mother. He says that she wore it at their wedding, and that it was always her dream to see Pocahontas’ wear it at hers.
Pocahontas’ mother had very, very limited goals. And that makes me sad.
Pocahontas then sings Just Around the Riverbend. As a song it’s fine, actually very nice. The music is lovely and Pocahontas’ singing voice, Judy Kuhn, is excellent. But there’s something off about it. You might thing that it’s an “I Want” song. But it’s not. Because, Pocahontas never actually states what she wants. There’s some vague implication that she doesn’t want to settle down with Kocoum and be “steady” but…she never says what she does want. It’s an “I do” song, an “I am” song. “I am sailing down the river”, “I look around the corner”. But we never actually understand what she wants. There’s just this void where character motivation should be. In fact, I think that’s why Pocahontas spends so much of this movie jumping off cliffs and riding her canoe over waterfalls. Her life is so hollow and devoid of purpose that she’s just trying to feel something.
She sails off to see Grandmother Willow, a talking tree voiced by Linda Hunt. She’s greeted by all the animals who just hang around Grandmother Willow like groupies; owls, rabbits, squirrels, the usual Disney Forest Detritus. Pocahontas tells Grandmother Willow that her father wants her to marry Kocoum but that she’s been having a dream, and Grandmother Willow says “Oh, a dream, let’s hear all about it!”
Hmm…that sounds familiar, let me look it up in my book of quotations.
Pocahontas starts to relate her dream. She’s running through the forest, and she sees an arrow that starts to spin. Grandmother Willow says “How unusual!”
How unusual?! It’s a fucking dream!! Last night I dreamed that I was the Megazord from Power Rangers except I was blue and I had to fight a monster that was kind of like Lady Gaga but sometimes she was the dog I had as a kid if it looked like a purple sheep with half a face and the city we were battling in was actually my old school but like built up all bigger so it was a city but all the buildings were buildings from my school and there was this really big mountain with a waterfall made of unicorns looking over it. And your mind is being blown by one spinning arrow?!
All of it. This whole scene. Pocahontas is just a Mary Sue. The other characters just exist to tell her how wonderful she is, and how interesting and brave and beautiful and blah blah blah. She has no flaws (apart from being irredeemably evil, of course) that she needs to overcome. She starts the movie perfect, she ends it perfect. There’s no arc apart from…oh yeah the dream. Didn’t I tell you? That’s what she wants. She wants to know what her dream means. I mean, putting aside the whole condescending and possibly racist implications of that, that is a pathetically trivial and self centred motivation for a character. Ariel wanted to explore new worlds, Belle and Jasmine were striving for freedom from the intellectual suffocation of small town life and the strictures of royal protocol. Hell, even Snow White, the most regressive and passive of any of the Disney princesses was fighting for her damn life!
This? I can’t really adequately express how little I care whether Pocahontas finds out what her dream means. You could…you could base a Zen koan around how much I do not care how this plot is resolved.
Grandmother Willow tells her that she has to listen to the spirits around her and that they will guide her on the right path.
Considering a tree is fucking talking to her, I’m kinda of the opinion that Pocahontas is around as in tune with the spirit world as it’s possible to get. But no, the wind speaks to her and tells her that “strange clouds” are coming. She climbs a tree and sees a ship in the distance and realises that newcomers have arrived.
The Powhatans hold a meeting to decide what to do about all these foreigners who’ve just turned up and no doubt are going to start lowering property values and stealing American jobs. Powhatan asks Kekata to consult the spirit world to get the skinny on these crackers.
Kekata says that the portents are dire.
Kocoum offers to lead a force against the English and crush them, just like they did with those filthy Massowomecks. Powhatan tells him to him to cool his jets and take a small party for recon. “Learn more about these pale visitors, and let us hope they do not intend to stay.”
Meanwhile, JOHN SMITH has gone off to find if there are any Indians about and Ratcliffe instructs the men to start digging for gold. Like, literally digging in the soil for it. He does this with the song Mine, which I quite like. There’s some clever wordplay and some good gags. See? I can be fair! But then it makes the mistake of cutting away from Ratcliffe to John exploring the wilderness and singing and oh my sweet Lord in heaven but Gibson cannot sing. I think I can say without any hesitation that this song is the single most offensive thing to ever come out of Mel Gibson’s mouth.
Anyway,the song over, John continues to explore but starts to feel that something in the forest is…watching him…
Alright, credit where credit’s due, the scene where Pocahontas cautiously stalks John through the forest is very well done, with a nicely atmospheric score and some downright beautiful human animation. I don’t like the more realistic style they used for the characters. I think their faces are too expressionless and overly complicated but they do move beautifully. Pocahontas especially, but then she’s animated by Glen Keane so what do you expect?
Smith lays in ambush and leaps out at her but doesn’t shoot because she’s hot and is just standing there, posing like she’s in a perfume ad.
Pocahontas runs off but Smith catches up to her and tries to talk to her.
Now, surprisingly, the movie does not go the typical Disney route of just having everyone being able to speak English. Because this is a serious, important, give-us-an-Oscar-please-that’d-be-swell kind of movie, John Smith and Pocahontas can’t communicate with each other and have to find ways other than language to come to an understanding.
For about…oh, five seconds.
Then Pocahontas, I shit you not, “listens to her heart” and suddenly she can speak English. Really.
So, what? I just have to listen to the wind calling to me and I can speak any language I want? Well Rosetta Stone can kiss my ass!
Alright, so ignoring this rather egregious voodoo shark we return to the English camp. The men haven’t been having much luck digging gold right out of the goddamn ground (the devil you say!) and Ben and Ratcliffe have the following hilarious exchange:
Ben: We’re slaving away, busting our backs…
Ratcliffe: Fucking and country, I know…
Okay, okay, he actually says “For King and Country, I know” but I swear to God once you hear it you can’t unhear it.
Percy spots one of Kocoum’s men and Ratcliffe sounds the alarm. The English start firing wildly into the forest.
One of Kocoum’s men (I want to say his name is Nanotek?) gets shot by Ratcliffe and the Powhatans break off the assault.
Back at Powhatan village Kekata tries to heal Nanoteck but he doesn’t have any experience treating gunshot wounds. Unfortunately, what’s needed here is an injection of tiny, microscopic robots that could repair the damage on a cellular level. Basically, Nanotek needs nanotech.
Powhatan says “These creatures invade our land, and now this!” but Means delivers the line so lifelessly that he might as well be saying “First, someone was in my parking space at work, and then there was no coffee left in the break room!”
Powhatan announces that they’re going to fight the English, but they can’t do it alone. He sends out a call to every tribe in the region to join them against the invaders.
Meanwhile, Pocahontas and John Smith are making good use of the Babel Fish and she’s telling him the names of the various places and rivers. He says that her funny foreign talk is funny, and she says that he has a very unusual name.
I’m sorry. No.
If you encountered an Amazon Tribe who had never before had any contact with civilization and told them that your name was “John Smith” they’d still ask you if your parents had an imagination-ectomy.
John shows her a handshake, and she shows him how Powhatans say “hello” which is apparently an interpretive dance that lasts like five minutes.
Meeko steals John’s compass but he says it’s fine, he’ll get another one in London (Really? How you going to find your way there, genius?). He describes it to Pocahontas as “a very big village”, because obviously that’s the only way her little native noggin can understand something so huge and complicated.
Smith then starts whitesplaining about how the English are going to make this place so much better and this leads us into Colours of the Wind.
Oh this song.
Oh this. Fucking. Song.
Alright, let’s get this over with. The music by Alan Menken is actually very good. But Stephen Schwartz’s lyrics? Oh my sweet Lord in heaven. Okay, now I will be absolutely showering Schwartz in rose petals next time when we review Hunchback of Notre Dame, so don’t feel too sorry for him. I don’t have enough space here to go into everything that I detest about this song so I’m just going to cherry pick my least favorite lyrics.
You think the only people that are people…
You’re saying that as he’s pointing a gun at a bear. Bears aren’t people. .
Can you paint with all the colours of the wind?
And we are all connected to each other, in a circle, in a hoop that never ends…
So, almost like a Circle of Life…?
But okay, fine. Pocahontas and her people live in perfect harmony with all living things.
How high does the sycamore grow? If you cut it down, you will never now…
Ah, of course. Because the Native Americans never cut down trees.
And I’m done.
Okay, so what’s next in this piece of shit?
Pocahontas and Smith are getting into some pretty steamy chaste hand holding when they hear the sound of drums. John asks what it means and Pocahontas says it means that
baby, baby, baby, you are my voodoo child that there’s trouble a-brewin’.
Back at the camp, Ratcliffe is freaking out because they haven’t found any gold. But then he has an idea. He ask Wiggins why he thinks the Indians attacked them and Wiggins answers “Because we invaded their land, cut down their trees and dug up their earth?”
You are a little perfect speck of rationality and common sense in a sea of feculent idiocy. I love you. And I want to have your children.
But Ratcliffe says that clearly the Indians are hoarding the gold. He sends some of the men out looking for Smith who’s gone looking for Pocahontas so that he can poke her hontas. Heh heh heh.
Smith eventually comes back after a scene with Grandmother Willow that goes absolutely nowhere and finds that Ratcliffe is preparing for all out war against the Powhatans. Smith is shocked, shocked! that anyone is even considering killing Indians and demands that Ratcliffe stop what he’s doing. He tells the governor that the Powhatans are a noble, peaceful people who only want to live in harmony with all living things.
Um…is this a bad time to mention that the real Ratcliffe was eventually captured by the Powhatans, stripped naked, tied to a tree in front of a roaring fire and forced to watch as the tribeswomen sheared off hunks of his flesh with sharpened mussel shells which they then threw into the fire?
It’s a bad time, isn’t it?
Smith leaves the camp to warn Pochaontas, and she leaves the village to warn him. They meet in the forest and talk about what they should do to stop the coming war. Then Percy, who’s been stalking Meeko all through this wretched burlesque, shows up and starts chasing him everywhere. Pocahontas tries to separate them and Smith says “See? Once two sides want to fight, nothing can stop them.”
Alright, well Pocahontas and Smith decide that they have to talk to Powhatan and try to prevent further bloodshed, and celebrate their decision with the kissing of lips with lips.
Unfortunately, they’ve both been followed. Kocoum has been looking for Pocahontas, whereas Thomas has been trailing Smith on Ratcliffe’s orders. Kocoum loses his goddamn shit when he sees the two kissing and attacks Smith. They tustle for a few seconds and Kokoum is about to cut Smith’s neck open when Thomas shoots him dead with his musket.
Oh my God…
NOT KOCOUM! ANYONE BUT KOCOUM! TAKE ME LORD, BUT NOT HIM!!!
The only solace I can take from this, the first fatal shooting of an American, is that I’m sure they will learn from this tragedy and ensure that it never, ever happens again.
Oh, and as Kocoum keels over dead he pulls at Pocahontas’ necklace, breaking it. And she is clearly so much more distraught over the necklace than him it’s actually hilarious.
Well anyway, Kocoum’s dead (lucky bastard). Thomas runs off and the Powhatans arrive and think that Smith killed Kocoum. They drag him back to the village.
He’s held captive in a tent but Nakoma manages to smuggle Pocahontas inside to see him. She says that she’s so sorry but he just shrugs it off and says “What, for this? I’ve gotten out of worse scrapes.”
Can’t argue with that.
Meanwhile Thomas runs back to the camp and raises the alarm. Ratcliffe seizes his chance and tells the men that they will attack the Indians at daybreak which leads us into the next song, Savages.
Savages, despite being a fairly transparent retread of Kill the Beast, is probably the best song in the movie because there is real emotion behind. Okay, yes, that emotion is pure seething hatred but at least they commit to it. In the song, Ratcliffe and Powhatan rile their followers into a blood frenzy and to be honest some of the racist rhetoric they use is pretty damn nasty. And you know what? Good. I don’t mind portrayals of racism in children’s movies as long as the movie makes it damn clear that it’s wrong. Look, you can criticise this movie for being a sanitised white washing of history, or you can criticise it for actually giving some sense of the absolutely virulent prejudice of the time. But you can’t do both.
The song takes us to our climax, where the Powhatans are preparing to execute Smith while the English are marching on their camp. Pocahontas is moping with Grandmother Willow when Meeko shows her Smith’s compass. And, oh look, a spinning arrow. Like in her dream. That’s…something. This apparently shows Pocahontas her true destiny (hatethismoviehatethismoviehatethismoviehatethismovie) and she goes off running to save John Smith OH JESUS!
She is actually drawing on the spirits of the animals to help her run faster.
Okay, 99.99999% of you will not get this next joke but I owe it to the people who will.
Pocahontas arrives just in time and lies on top of John to stop Powhatan from killing him with his club. He tells that he’s kind of in the middle of something here, could she please scootch? But she says that this is where the path of hatred has lead them and that she has chosen a different path: Lying on white guys.
Her words move Powhatan and he makes a gesture of peace to the English.
The English and the Powhatans stand down, but Ratcliffe orders his men to attack. Even the English realise that would be a dick move at this point, so Ratcliffe grabs a rifle and shoots at Powhatan. John leaps in front of him with a half-hearted “No!”
OH COME ON!
If you’re going to take a bullet for someone it’s a full “NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” or what is the fucking point?
Well anyway, John gets shot. Lucky bastard. The English take Ratcliffe prisoner and war is averted. But John is badly wounded (only wounded? Jeez, Kocoum was a pussy!) and they have no choice but to take him back to England for treatment.
I really don’t like the implication that Native American medicine is so backward that a fucking four month voyage gives him a better change of survival but whatever, we’re getting to the end of this.
Pocahontas and the Powhatans arrive at the shore to give the English some supplies for their voyage and presumably to make sure the door to the continent doesn’t hit their asses on the way out. Pocahontas and John Smith say their last goodbyes.
And the movie ends with Pocahontas watching from a cliff as his ship returns to England. And they all lived happily ever after.
Pocahontas was not a flop, not by any means. The momentum that Disney had built up in the previous six years ensured that any new movie they made would do well and it had the largest movie premiere in history. As the public slowly came to terms with the fact that they had been promised steak and served shoe leather, the box office began to tail off and in the end Pocahontas would make far less than Lion King. I think Pocahontas did serious harm to Disney’s image, in the same way that Cars damaged Pixar years later. A movie studio that had seemed unstoppable had finally stumbled, and it caused quite a serious break in the Renaissance’s momentum. I’ll be honest, if it hadn’t been for this movie, I think Hunchback and Mulan would today be considered as good or better as the Fearsome Four. But because of Pocahontas, they fell victim to the narrative that Disney movies weren’t “as good” any more.
As you’ve probably guessed, I hate this movie. I actually probably dislike it more than any other film in the canon (full disclosure, I haven’t yet seen a lot of the ones made after the turn of the millennium so maybe that’ll change). If it wasn’t for the excellent animation and music it would probably be the lowest scoring movie that we’ve covered so far. Is there anything good I can say about it?
It is at least better in its portrayal of Native Americans than their last attempt. Sure, they’ve swopped out the old stereotypes for some new ones but they did at least try to do better. And yes, full credit has to be given for casting Native Americans in all the Powhatan roles. In its way, it is a step forward, however inelegant and stumbling. It’s not always easy for the mainstream to adjust its view and give an honest and faithful look at the world from a minority perspective. It’s a constant learning process, and at least now Disney can learn from the mistakes of the past and ensure that the next time they portray Native Americans it will be in a complex, honest and respectful fashion.
Technically excellent but lacking in flair and I don’t like the more realistic character designs.
The Leads: 03/20
Honestly, if Irene Bedard wasn’t able to inject a smidgen of humanity into this ungodly written Mary Sue it would be a one. And Mel Gibson? If I didn’t make it clear before: FUCK MEL GIBSON.
The Villain: 12/20
Pretty unthreatening, but entertaining enough.
Supporting Characters: 04/20
That four is ALL Wiggins and Nakoma. All of it. The rest get nothing.
The Music: 10/20
Menken gives excellent Menken, but I cannot stand the lyrics.
FINAL SCORE: 44%
NEXT UPDATE: 25th July 2013
Neil Sharpson AKA The Unshaved Mouse, is a playwright, comic book writer and blogger living in Dublin. The blog updates every second Thursday. Thanks for reading!