|Pocahontas (10th Anniversary Edition)|
|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 03 May 2005|
When Walt Disney Pictures first announced their intention to make a feature-length animated film about the "romance" between Pocahontas and Captain John Smith of England, a lot of objections rose up from Native Americans, as well as women's organizations. "Pocahontas" marked the first time Disney animation had ventured out to do a story based on historical fact instead of fantasy or legend. General consensus held that Pocahontas would not be fairly represented as a Native American, nor as a woman, since the real Pocahontas' life was tragically ended through sickness at age 22.
In reality, Pocahontas met John Smith in 1607 when she was about 10 years old, according to his own journals. She was a bright and capricious child who didn't fear much. In a short time, she became a favorite among the Europeans who had arrived on the continent. The account of Pocahontas' brave interruption of the execution of John Smith was also somewhat over-dramatized as the years went along. It became a love story. In truth, though, the execution was probably a staged event and even Pocahontas throwing herself on Smith and placing her head on his was an expected thing.
Throughout the movie, the love between Pocahontas and Smith is played up as star-crossed lovers who are doomed to forever be apart. History shows that Pocahontas was separated from Smith and thought him dead for 10 years. Later, she went to England with her husband, John Rolfe, and saw Smith again. She told him that she considered him a father to her. No romance there. She died shortly after the voyage home.
Once history is put aside, though, "Pocahontas" as a Disney movie shines mostly as a romance. Pocahontas and Smith are both revealed in opening chapter sequences as coming from two entirely different worlds. Although she believes in the ways of her people and how they interact with the world rather than trying to force it into subjugation, Pocahontas (voiced by Irene Bedard) still feels the need to walk her own path. John Smith (voiced by Mel Gibson), although apparently a loyal Englishman, is bereft of any real belonging or family.
Chapter 1 opens with a stirring musical score that the Disney films of the
1990s really took pride in. The viewer glimpses John Smith's world in England as the young captain moves aggressively through it on his way to his ship. The opening sequence going from painting to the actual cityscape of London is effective and pulls the viewer into the world. The stirring music underscores the goodbyes said by the crew to their families. Smith is at once presented as an adventurer, one to whom exciting things surely will happen. Early on in this sequence of events, the surround sound system is well used. Footsteps proceed to the left as Governor Ratcliffe walks the gangplank onto the ship. A rat squeaks and creeps across the rope onto the ship, running from right to left across the screen and the sound is carried through the speakers, from right to center to left, so that we feel we are in the center of the action.
Later in that same chapter, a storm blows over Smith's ship. Thunder explodes, thudding from the subwoofer, then cascading lighter notes all around the surround sound system until we feel we are sitting on the ship with the characters. Waves crash and hammer the ship's sides and the prow, buffeting the watcher from all sides. The only thing missing is the rock and roll of the ship's deck heaving underfoot.
In Chapter 2, John leaps from a furled mainsail on a yardarm and grabs a length of rope to aid in tying off a cannon. Despite John's heroic efforts, one of the crewmen is lost overboard. John's boots bang against the deck from left to right as he grabs a length of rope and hurls himself into the sea after Thomas. The other crewmen who play out major parts in the film are introduced as rescuers, casting them immediately in a good light.
Despite the danger and John's noble efforts to take care of his crew, Governor Ratcliffe steps out onto the deck and gives the men a severe talking to, reminding them that they are there to explore and exploit the New World. Ratcliffe immediately comes across as a villain, especially when Ratcliffe reveals his real reasons for making the journey. John and Thomas share a moment talking about the New World. John seems bored, as if unwilling to believe he will find anything different this time that he hasn't found before.
Chapter 3 runs the credits, offering a montage of woodland views and Native American drumbeats that whet the appetite for the coming story. The visual effects of the hunters blowing their horns and scattering deer before them are awesome. The moving camera effect sliding through the forest and the Native American homes is a cinematic treat.
In Chapter 4, Chief Powhattan announces that the tribe's enemies have been defeated and that the warriors have returned. Then he asks about his daughter, Pocahontas. According to his friend, Pocahontas is a free spirit who goes wherever the wind takes her. The blowing leaves that fly away from the chief and through the forest to Pocahontas high on a cliff above a lake is pure eye candy, a device that is used effectively over and over again in the movie. Pocahontas' animal friends, Meeko the raccoon and Flit the hummingbird, get introduced as well, instantly revealing themselves to be the lighter side of the story (especially when Meeko climbs aboard the canoe and his striped tale looks like a bull's-eye, which Flit attacks). When Pocahontas dives into the lake and overturns the canoe, she and her friend surface under it and talk. Their voices echo hollowly under the overturned canoe in a realistic manner through the surround sound system.
Chief Powhattan talks to Pocahontas about her dreams of the spinning arrow. In the next instant, Pocahontas learns that Kocoum, the bravest warrior among the tribe, has asked her hand in marriage. Chief Powhattan tries to persuade Pocahontas that the marriage will be good for her, pointing out that rivers live so long because they choose the smoothest course. Instead, in Chapter 6, Pocahontas sings about the surprises and new experiences that seem to always be waiting just around the river bends. The fork in the river is immediately symbolic of the choice she is soon going to have to make.
Pocahontas goes to talk to Grandmother Willow in Chapter 7. Where her father wouldn't take time to listen, the tree spirit does. Grandmother Willow isn't so excited to hear about Kocoum's proposal. Pocahontas tells the tree spirit about the "spinning arrow." Unfortunately, neither of them knows what the spinning arrow means.
In Chapter 8, Pocahontas spots the sails of John's ship and thinks they are clouds blowing just above the treetops. Governor Ratcliffe reveals in Chapter 9 that he's being hard-pressed to make a success of this voyage. Despite Ratcliffe's heavy-handedness, the governor never quite succeeds as the villain to succeed as a serious threat in the movie. The action seems to derive more from people not understanding each other. The viewer is tantalized and teased later in Chapter 9, when Pocahontas and John almost meet. The romance between the two is palpable.
Chapter 10 mixes in a bit of hilarity as Meeko and Percy, the governor's dog, end up in the bath together. Meeko's curiosity constantly pushes him into trouble. Chief Powhattan and the tribe have become aware of the Englishmen as well, and the shaman offers only stories of eventual conflict and strife in Chapter 10. Later, Governor Ratcliffe claims the land and names the landing Jamestown. Powhattan wants to learn more about the enemy, and Ratcliffe wants to dig for gold.
Pocahontas meets John in Chapter 12 amid the splashing cadence of the waterfall surrounding them. The music tracks are extremely effective in this scene, switching back and forth so that we get a feel for John's music as well as Pocahontas'. They ultimately meet over a rifle barrel while the music crescendos. At first, the two can't understand each other. Then, through some type of magic, they are able to understand each other.
The movie quickly moves into pure romance mode. All the things that have been set up to keep the couple apart come into play. The two cultures clash and are on the verge of war, and for a time everyone's life hangs in the balance.
As with every Disney home video release of a theatrical animated film, especially a tenth-anniversary one, there are a lot of extras in this two-disc edition. A lot of the extra material is aimed at the younger audience, including games and activities that can be done on the computer, as well as the DVD monitor. The deleted scenes are always worth a look and a chuckle. "The Making of Pocahontas" is interesting, as are all of Disney's making-of features. One of the letdowns about this particular movie, though, is the pedestrian manner in which the audio commentary comes across. Of course, it has been 10 years since the commentators have worked on the picture. Still, there are some patches that are good and offer worthwhile illumination.
Overall, "Pocahontas 10th Anniversary Edition" is a good addition to the home video library for young viewers. The story doesn't have enough action for the pre-K and early elementary crowd, though. Meeko, Flit, and Percy do a lot to alleviate the boredom factor for those viewers, but the romance is heavier than anything else in the movie. The animation, as always, is superb.