I was once a mouse of honour.
Once I had a code.
My very first post on this blog, half a goddamn decade ago, set out some rules that I swore I’d follow come hell or high water:
No direct to video Disney sequels.
So here we are. Come and witness as my last scrap of virtue is torn away. Today, I review a direct to video Disney sequel, the cinematic equivalent of hiring a prostitute to dress up like your high school sweetheart, something beautiful and pure rendered tawdry and mercenary.
Oh come, come, Mouse, I hear you cry. Are they really as bad as all that? Well…
Okay, real talk time. None of the direct to video sequels made for the canon movies are as good as or better than the movies they are based on. Not one. By definition, really. I mean. If Disney Toons had somehow made a sequel to The Little Mermaid that was even better, they wouldn’t have released it straight to video, right? They’d have given it a full theatrical release and made it an official entry in the canon like The Rescuers Down Under or Winnie the Pooh (is Winnie the Pooh still in the canon? Disney?)
But, y’know. I’m fair. I’m a fair mouse. Everyone says so. Believe me. And while all of the Disney cheapquels are objectively worse than the movies they were based on, that doesn’t mean that they were entirely without merit. In fact, let’s play the game that’s taking the globe by storm, Mouse Says Nice Things About Disney Sequels For As Long As He Can!
Return of Jafar: Obviously (OBVIOUSLY) not as good as Aladdin but it actually did some interesting stuff plot wise by giving Iago a character arc and actually leaving a real, lasting change to the status quo by having him become a hero. Maybe not a great movie but a very decent pilot for a better than decent TV show.
King of Thieves: Robin Williams back as the genie, some much needed delving into Aladdin’s backstory and a fairly satisfying conclusion to the story of the Agrabah gang.
Lion King 1 ½: As a sequel it busts the original’s continuity straight to hyena infested hell buuuuut…great cast, really nice animation, some genuinely funny gags and Diggah Tunnah is honestly a good enough song that it could have been in the original movie (and a good song in a Disney sequel is a rare, precious thing indeed).
Bambi 2: Patrick Stewart as the Prince of the Forest. It’s truly sad when a Disney Sequel is making better use of Patrick Stewart than the actual canon movies.
Cinderella 3: A Stitch in Time: Faced with the task of making a second sequel to Cinderella and with the imminent closure of their studio, Disney Australia went all in on a batshit insane time travel caper. They went out fighting. They went out weird. And we salute them.
And as for today’s movie…
Okay, look. We need to take a minute to talk about the plight of a certain persecuted minority. A proud people who have suffered indignity after indignity in the face of a hostile and uncaring majority.
I refer, of course, to Pocahontas fans. And I am sorry that I must add to their legacy of suffering, because the truth is this:
I prefer Pocahontas 2 to the original.
No, I’m not joking.
No, I’m not just trolling you.
No, I’m not being contrarian.
No, I haven’t suffered some kind of head injury.
Here’s the thing, if you love Pocahontas you probably love it for the music and the animation and I’m obviously not going to pretend that Pocahontas 2 holds a single solitary candle to the original in either of those categories. But in terms of story…
Okay. It’s not perfect. It’s not even particularly good. But. This is the story of a young Native American woman who most leave her home, travel across the sea and navigate the intrigue of a strange and hostile foreign court with the survival of her entire tribe hanging in the balance. And that, to me, is automatically more compelling than the warmed-over Romeo and Juliet plot of the original.
Let’s take a look.
So, like its predecessor, this movie about a Native American heroine begins in…London. And right off the bat I’m pleasantly surprised by the animation. That won’t last, unfortunately, but the movie starts strong with a pretty damn impressive tracking shot over a gloomy night-time London before zooming in through the window of our old friend John Smith now played by Donal Gibson, Mel’s younger, cheaper and presumably less racist brother. John is ambushed by some royal guards who tell him that he’s under arrest for treason in Jamestown. Smith’s all “wuzzen me” but gets chased over rooftops before finally coming face to face with Radcliffe, (once again played by a too-good-for-this-tosh David Ogden Stiers) who pushes his off a ledge to his apparent death.
So how’s that for shaking up the status quo? I mean, if Cinderella 2 had opened with Lady Tremaine shiving Prince Charming in the shower, it probably would be more fondly remembered. Keep in mind, however many nice or positive things I have to say about this movie, it is bad. I am grading on serious curve here, but whatever else it is, you can’t say the movie is just a retread of the original which honestly puts it head and shoulders above most of its ignoble breed.
At the court of King James VI and I (One guy, not two different kings, it’s a whole…thing) Ratcliffe apologizes to the king saying that he tried to bring Smith in alive, but shit went down how it went down. Also, I’m really not the kind of mouse to get all het up about anachronistic costuming (I don’t even wear clothes) but what the fuck, what even the fuck is this?!
Anyway, the Burger King is furious because he wanted Smith alive to see if Ratcliffe was telling the truth about what happened in Jamestown. So, to recap. Ratcliffe claimed that John Smith was behind all the shady shit that Ratcliffe did in the first movie. In order to corroborate this story, the King sent soldiers to arrest Smith led by…Ratcliffe.
Slight…slight conflict of interest perhaps? Then again, I can’t say I’m surprised. This is the king, after all, who though the Ulster Plantations were a good idea. Ratcliffe says that since the guy who accused him is now dead he’s obviously innocent, so there’s nothing left to do but launch an armada to kill all the Indians. The king agrees that that is rock solid logic, but says that they’ll put the genocide on hold until John Rolfe comes back with the Indian Chief to tell his side of the story.
Across the sea the Powhatans are gathering food for the winter, a winter that has been so harsh that it’s drastically reduced the detail of their character models.
Those aren’t background figures either, they are in the foreground. The movie is literally saying, “look at these great Indian women we drew. Aren’t they great? What is faces, LOL.” Which brings us back to the animation which is inconsistent as hell. There are a few scenes, mostly featuring Pocahontas, that are genuinely nicely done and might even have been slipped into the first movie without anyone noticing (maybe, the first movie was not exactly an exemplar of consistent animation quality itself). But when this movie decides it doesn’t want to give a shit, not so much as a single solitary turdlet is given. So anyway, Nakoma is carrying a basket of fruit when she gets ambushed by Pocahontas (Irene Bedard) who throws a snowball at her and then straight of body slams her and they sliding down a hill in Nakoma’s basket with Pocahontas laughing like a lunatic. Which is an…odd re-introduction to the character. I mean, when I think of Pocahontas, I don’t necessarily think of a crazy, life-of-the-party gal. I think of long boring conversations about dreams and casual cruelty to humming birds. Oh yeah, Flit, Percy and Meeko, the triune lords of Cartoon Animal Sidekick Hell, are in practically every scene of this thing again. And again, they’re just off in their own little movie, completely extraneous to the plot. So, I’m just going to ignore them, if it’s all the same to you. Just know that they’re out there, engaging in unfunny comedic business, until death takes us all. Pocahontas looks at the compass that John Smith gave her in the last movie, which, just in case we in the audience have been drinking paint thinner, has the words “JOHN SMITH” engraved on the back in big gold letters.
Nakoma tells Pocahontas that she knows that she’s been sad since they got news of John Smith’s death…
Yeah, so. You’ve probably spotted the problem here. John Rolfe’s ship hasn’t arrived in Jamestown yet and it left either before John Smith died or immediately after (the editing and dialogue suggest the former but it’s not totally clear). Regardless, there is no way Pocahontas could already have received word of his death yet. Hell, Since Nakoma is telling her to get over it already, we have to assume she’s known for some time. So that’s a continuity blunder but it’s also just…bad storytelling. I mean, imagine that Pocahontas is trying to live her life but is still pining for her love on the other side of the ocean. Suddenly she sees a ship on horizon. Overjoyed, she thinks Johnhas finally come back to her, only to hear that he’s dead, and that he died accused of treason. Heartbroken and furious, she resolves to cross the ocean and clear the name of her beloved and seek answers as to how he died. That could be a really powerful scene, and a great way to kick off the story. Why have her already know that John Smith is dead? It makes no sense and it weakens the story. Pocahontas wanders off sadly and Percy and Meeko try to follow her but Nakoma distracts them with doggie treats. Like, actual, modern, bone-shaped doggie biscuits because apparently history hired this movie off a street corner and told it that it likes the rough stuff.
Pocahontas starts to sing Where Do I Go From Here, the first of our five musical numbers. Sorry, let me throw some scare quotes up there; “musical” numbers. Judy Kuhn, Pocahontas’ singing voice, has a good set of pipes but that’s about all I can say. I was never a huge fan of the original’s songs but there were a few gems here and there and even Colours of the Wind has a kind of dopey grandeur. But all the songs here have lyrics that suggest the writer had a copy of a rhyming dictionary open on their lap as they wrote. And the melodies are terrible. I could write better songs than these, and that’s not me bragging. That’s me being viciously insulting.
Anyway. John Rolfe’s ship pulls into Jamestown and the colonists are delighted to see him as it’s the dead of winter and they’re probably three days away from eating their own feet. Pocahontas goes down to the dock to see the ship come in and sees John Rolfe (Billy Zane) disembark riding a horse. Percy and Meeko, doing their usual tedious comedic dance macabre, run under the horse’s hooves and spook him causing him to gallop wildly into the crowd. Pocahontas saves the life of one of the colonists by pushing him out of the way but he hits her, calling her a “bloody savage”.
The Powhatans who have been watching from the forest are all “Oh hell nah!” and rush out with bows and arrows drawn. This causes the colonists to draw their guns and it looks like actual American history is about to break out but Pocahontas tells the Powhatans to stand down. Rolfe orders the colonists to lay down their guns and Pocahontas gets all huffy because this was her deadly standoff and no one invited him. Rolfe overhears the colonists talking about Pocahontas and assumes that that’s the name of the local chief.
Rolfe visits the Powhatans and says that he wants to present the horse as a gift to “Mighty Pocahontas” from the king of “Greater Britain” (oh great, we’re just inventing countries now). Chief Powhatan is all “Honey? There’s a white guy who wants to give you some kind of…weird…mutant…buffalo…” and Rolfe is shocked to discover that the great Pocahontas is (GASP!) a woman.
Rolfe says that there’s been a misunderstanding and that the horse is meant for the chief and Powhatan is all “Well then you should have learned my name, no backsies” and so Pocahontas now has a horse to add to her wretched mobile zoo. Four animal sidekicks, people. Four. That is just grossly decadent.
Rolfe asks Powhatan to accompany him back to England to meet the king, and Powhatan gives an answer befitting his hairstyle.
One of Powhatan’s warriors yells that they shouldn’t even be talking with the English because they just want to kill them and take their land and Pocahontas replies “You don’t know that!”
Wow, Pocahontas did you just back the wrong weird mutant buffalo.
Anyway, Powhatan decides that since Pocahontas likes the English so much, she can go talk to them. Rolfe isn’t happy about this but he has no choice. Powhatan tells one of his warriors, Uttamatomakkin (“Uti” to his friends) to watch over Pocahontas and also gives him a staff and tells him to cut a notch in it for every Englishman he sees so that they can get an idea of the enemy’s numbers. This, believe it or not, is actually historically accurate and that is the last bloody time that particular sentence will show itself in this review so savour it while you can.
Pocahontas has a teary goodbye with Nakoma which is honestly beautifully animated and actually quite touching, especially when you remember that in real life, she never came back. She also says goodbye to Meeko, Flit and Percy and we never see them again…no, of course not, they stow aboard the ship and follow her to England and we will never be free. Never.
There is one supporting character in this I do like, however. There’s a sailor on the voyage over who is just so fucking done with swabbing the deck.
Meeko and Percy are discovered and the Captain wants to throw Pocahontas in the brig for bringing these abominations onto his ship (quite right, good idea, quite right, good idea, quite right) but Rolfe intervenes. Pocahontas asks him why and he tells that he swore to protect her and that his people are people of honour.
Pocahontas arrives in London and becomes an instant sensation, kicking off What a Day In London, a song that wants to be Belle so, so much you guys it’s kind of tragic. It couldn’t be more obviously aping that song if it had cockneys popping out of windows going “’Allo! ‘Allo! ‘Allo! ‘Allo? Allo!”
Pocahontas is absolutely mesmerised by London’s size and Utti has pretty soon whittled his staff down to a splinter trying to keep track of everybody. So, here’s where I have to come clean. Back in my original Pocahontas review I made some of my typically delightful snarky comments about the movie assuming that Pocahontas wouldn’t know what a city was. Having read a bit more about pre-Columbian history, I have to admit that the movie was probably more right than I was. There were large cities in the Americas before Columbus’ arrival, but they were exceedingly rare and mostly located far south of where the movie is set. This was because the Americas drew a really shitty hand when it came to domesticable animal species meaning Native Americans who did build cities had to do so without the help of any beast of burden larger than a llama. Plus, the original movie is set after the Native American population had been almost completely destroyed by smallpox. So I hereby retract my snark. Yes, Pocahontas would most likely not have been familiar with a city larger than a small town and London most likely blew her mind. However, her reaction to being in London for the first time would probably have been less “Oh brave new world that has such people in it!” and more “Oh God! Oh God! What’s that smell!? DID YOU ACTUALLY BUILD THE CITY OUT OF SHIT?!”
Pocahontas and Rolfe are ambushed by Ratcliffe who sneers that he has orders from the king to lead an armada against the Indians at Jamestown and then drives off twirling his moustache. So, another point in this movie’s favour, it actually has the gall to suggest that Pocahontas has actual human feelings. When she sees Ratcliffe for the first time she hisses “You!” and looks likes she’s actually going to swing for him. And I realised something…I have never seen this character angry before. Snotty, sure. Haughty, definitely. Mesmerised by the wonder and grandeur of nature to which she has a deep spiritual bond, Christ yes. But actual, real anger? I have never seen that before, and it’s damn refreshing. Pocahontas demands to know from Rolfe what the fuck is going on and why his king is attacking her tribe. He promises to get to the bottom of it and Pocahontas is all “Well, you people are famously trustworthy and never go back on your word so I trust you.”
They go back to Rolfe’s house and meet his short-sighted housekeeper Mrs Jenkins, who’s basically Mrs Potts crossed with Mister Magoo. Rolfe leaves Pocahontas at his house and goes to see the king. He tells the king that the Powhatans aren’t savages and that if the King were to meet with Pocahontas he could see this for himself. Ratcliffe then cunningly suggests that the King invite Pocahontas to the Hunt Ball where she can mingle with the hoi polloi and prove how civilised she is and the King agrees because that is exactly the kind of shit that kings are into. So Rolfe has to coach Pocahontas in how to navigate a high society ball without breaking any of the million and one tiny little fiddling rules of etiquette. It’s My Fair Lady, if Higgins was going to murder everyone Eliza Doolittle knew and loved if she failed to impress at the Ambassador’s Ball.
So we get a montage of Pocahontas learning to dance and trying on dresses and new hairstyles while Mrs Jenkin’s sings Wait Till He Sees You, a poor man’s Human Again sung by a poorer man’s Mrs Potts. Rolfe gives her a gold necklace to wear, and she reluctantly removes the blue turquoise necklace that her father gave her in the first movie and that literally meant more to her than her dead fiancée (rest in peace, Kocoum).
So Pocahontas goes to the ball and dances with John Rolfe. Ratcliffe cuts in and taunts Pocahontas, asking her how John Smith would feel about her moving on so soon after his death. So, another thing this movie has over its prequel; the protagonist and the antagonist are actually enemies. I’ll admit it’s been a while since I’ve seen re-watched Pocahontas, (life is short, people) but I can’t actually remember a single line of dialogue between Pocahontas and Ratcliffe in that movie. I don’t think they had a single, solitary interaction. Here though? They’re trading barbs and hissed threats like two soap opera divas from the seventies. It’s kind of awesome. In fact, I have to give the movie props for the huge improvement in Ratcliffe as a villain. He’s gone from being one of the least threatening baddies in the canon to a cunning, cruel, dangerous foe who’s always a step or two ahead of the heroes. Of course, this just makes me feel even sorrier for the real John Ratcliffe. Compared to most of the other colonists he really wasn’t a bad dude all things considered (John Smith actually fell out with him because he was too generous in his trading with the Indians) and when you remember how he died? Well shit, nobody deserves that.
Pocahontas succeeds in charming the King and Queen and it looks like there won’t be any Indian genocide. Today. But Ratcliffe has a plan up his sleeve, having arranged for a bear baiting during the banquet. Ratcliffe knows (somehow) that to Pocahontas, bears are just hairy guys who lift, and she’s outraged and calls the court “savages”. The king is all “Hey! That’s our word.” And has her thrown in the tower.
Rolfe is at his wits’ end but is approached by a mysterious stranger who offers to help him bust her out. They rescue Pocahontas and it turns out that he’s actually John Smith who’s not dead after all, and between him, Rolfe and Ratcliffe this movie is officially at Peak John.
Pocahontas is so overcome with passion at seeing Smith alive again that she places her hand on his chest and then asks him why he never wrote to her and he says “I wanted to. I must have started a thousand letters…”
Anything else you want to add to that, Johnny? “I must have started a thousand letters, and then remembered I’m illiterate?”, “I must have started a thousand letters, but each time was struck by an ague?”, “I must have started a thousand letters, but each time I was attacked by thousands of tiny dogs working in unison?” What the fuck kind of excuse is that? Anyway, Smith and Rolfe argue over their next move and how to stop Ratcliffe and Pocahontas runs off into the woods. Rolfe chases after her and Smith realises that Rolfe is in love with her.
Pocahontas sings Between Two Worlds and realises that the way to save he people is to be true to herself. Of course, once a Disney Princess has learned to be true to herself it’s all over but the screaming, it’s her equivalent of going super-saiyen, she is now fucking invincible. So Pocahontas, dressed in her own clothes and wearing her mother’s necklace, strides into the Royal Court and demands to speak to the king. At first he orders her arrested but Queen Anne convinces him to hear her out and he agrees.
Pocahontas proves that Ratcliffe was lying because, hi, here’s John Smith totally not dead and the king orders Ratcliffe’s Armada stopped.
Later, John Smith is overjoyed to learn that he’s been given command of a ship and invites Pocahontas to explore the world with him but she realises that she’s moved on and has feelings for Rolfe. So, can we take a minute to appreciate how kinda radical that is? This is a sequel to a Disney movie that actually breaks up its main couple and that’s treated as no big deal? Instead of “Happily Ever After” it’s “Yeah, we had fun but it wasn’t meant to be and we ended it on good terms”. Hot damn.
Pocahontas says her goodbyes to Uti, who is evidently staying in England with Mrs Jenkins. And the bear Pocahontas saved. Because, apparently, somebody was eyeing a spin off.
And the movie ends with Rolfe and Pocahontas sailing back to the New World together, leaving us content in the knowledge that she definitely didn’t get smallpox, and the colonists and the Indians stayed really chill and nothing bad happened.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’ll take “bad but interesting” over “competent but boring” any day (in movies, I mean not in terms of things like elections and lovemaking). Pocahontas 2 is in many ways a bad film but it does have a spark of originality that the original sorely lacked. Heck, in some ways it’s downright revolutionary. This is a Disney Princess movie where the Princess and the Prince break up. Not to mention, the romance is a mere subplot rather than being Pocahontas’ whole raison d’etre. She’s there to save the Powhatans, not because she’s looking for Mr. Right. I respect that. If you loved the original you almost certainly hate this one. If, on the other hand, you don’t have skin in the game, you might be pleasantly surprised.
Shit, if I’m going to review Disney sequels I’ll need a new scoring system.
How butt ugly is the animation? Is it as ugly as a butt?: 4/20
Some nice individual sequences and backgrounds here and there, but overall it’s just a janky, ugly mess. The Indians characters are done in realistic style but the English characters are all Disney house and they look like they came from different planets instead of different continents.
Are the main characters jerks? I bet they’re jerks: 6/20
A definite improvement on the original. Pocahontas actually has something more resembling human emotions.
Bet the villain’s a real shitpile, character wise:13/20
Damn Ratcliffe, where did THIS come from?
Oh what’s this? Supporting characters? Fuck you, supporting characters!:03/20
Did you like all the tedious, pointless, happy meal bait antics of the first movie? Would you like them even better if they looked like they were animated on the back of a napkin during happy hour? Then do I have a movie for you, and also you’re a lunatic.
Man, fuck the music. I hope it dies: 05/20
FINAL SCORE: 31%
NEXT UPDATE: 17 August 2017
NEXT TIME: So, having reviewed the sequel of my least favourite Renaissance movie, it’s time to look at the sequel of my favourite Renaissance movie. Will I hate it? I dunno, but I have a hunch…