Pocahontas was released in 1995 and was Disney’s first attempt at animating a “true” story since 1948 (The Legend of Johnny Appleseed in Melody Time). That being said the truthfulness around the events of this film have been heavily modified and have only been written by John Smith himself years after the time the events were to have taken place.
Whether the story is true or not aside, is Pocahontas a good film? Not really. The songs are quite nice and sweeping and the animation is pretty good despite the fact that most of the Native Americans in this film seem to have the same lack of nose condition that afflicted Voldemort. But that is where most of my praise stops, the characters are two-dimensional and uninteresting (especially the two leads) and that is poorly covered up by the overused sidekicks. Don’t get me wrong, Meeko the Racoon is cute, but he, Flit the Hummingbird and Percy the Pug are so overused that I would imagine even some kids would get bored of it.
Without going in to the lacklustre effort Disney put in to correctly portraying the way the British treated the indigenous people of America and their attempt in saying maybe it was all a misunderstanding (it wasn’t) I will instead look at the film as a film. It’s not that much better.
The tone of the film is pretty off with the story of John Smith (Mel Gibson) and Pocahontas (Irene Bedard, and Judy Kuhn providing the singing voice) being whittled down to a conversation or two where they kind of get to know each other, while we find out how boring they both are. The rest of the film shows Pocahontas’ tribe and the British Colonials in a Romeo and Juliet sort of manner where they are both considered to be in the wrong and a sub-plot in which the parts of the story that might go over the heads of children are explained through a dog chasing a racoon. The story can be split almost equally with the ‘love story’ of Pocahontas and John Smith slightly getting some more screen time over Meeko vs Percy. At lease the film isn’t slow. Watching the 82 minute film doesn’t feel like a trial or anything, it skips through the story beats reasonably well with out losing too much momentum during the musical numbers.
The even more uninteresting supporting cast included the voices of Christian Bale as Thomas, David Ogden Stiers as Governor Ratcliffe and his manservant Wiggins, Russell Means as Chief Powhatan, Linda Hunt as Grandma Willow (I know I haven’t talked about the talking tree), Michele St. John as Nakoma, James Apaumut Fall as Kocoum and Joe Baker and Billy Connolly as two settlers, everytime Billy speaks it pulls you out of the movie – something these older films were not known to do as much as nowadays. Good on all these people for being in a film. Also a quick shout out to the two directors; Mike Gabriel (who had previously co-directed The Rescuers Down Under) and Eric Goldberg (who went on to direct parts of Fantasia 2000).
Disney had planned for Pocahontas to be their next Best Picture Academy Award winning film, it failed in that regard but they did pick up two for Best Original Song (Colors of the Wind) and Best Musical or Comedy Score. They tried to cater to as wide an audience as possible and ended up creating something that appealed to no one. It’s visual gags from the side characters aren’t enough to distract from the boring love story between two dull and undeveloped characters.