Pocahontas (1995)

  • Time: 81 min
  • Genre: Animation | Adventure | Drama
  • Director: Mike Gabriel, Eric Goldberg
  • Cast: Irene Bedard, Mel Gibson, Christian Bale, Linda Hunt


Capt. John Smith leads a rag-tag band of English sailors & soldiers to the New World to plunder its riches for England (or, more precisely, for Governor Ratcliffe, who comes along for the ride). Meanwhile, in this “New World,” Chief Powhatan has pledged his daughter, Pocahontas, to be married to the village’s greatest warrior. Pocahontas, however, has other ideas. She has seen a vision of a spinning arrow, a vision she believes tells her change is coming. Her life does indeed change when the English ship lands near her village. Between Ratcliffe, who believes the “savages” are hiding the gold he expected to be plentiful, and Powhatan, who believes these pale newcomers will destroy their land, Smith and Pocahontas have a difficult time preventing all-out war, and saving their love for each other.

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  • Made during the era now known as the ‘Disney Renaissance’ between 1989 and 1999, Pocahontas is one of the least fondly remembered of a wave of films that also included the likes of The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991) and The Lion King (1994), all of which are now considered giants of the Disney back-catalogue. It received mixed reviews upon its release, with some seeing a bravery in the films desire to tell a more serious story, and others lamenting its lack of memorable musical numbers and three dimensional supporting characters. And ‘mixed’ is precisely the way I felt when the credits started to roll.

    In 1607, a ship named the Susan Constant arrives at the New World carrying settlers and fortune-seekers from England. Led by the dastardly Governor Ratcliffe (David Ogden Stiers) who means to strip the lands of all of its riches so he can return to England as a success, the ship also carries the dashing John Smith (Mel Gibson), the captain seen as a hero by his crew-mates after saving young deck-sweeper Thomas (Christian Bale) from drowning during a storm. Further inland, the beautiful and free-spirited Pocahontas (Irene Bedard, with Judy Kuhn providing the singing vocals) fears the prospect of marriage to stoic warrior Kocoum (James Apamunt Fall), arranged by her father and tribe chief Powhatan (Russell Means). As tensions between the settlers and the natives grow, Smith and Pocahontas form a romantic bond that will shake the foundations of both camps.

    Pocahontas deserves to be applauded for its refusal to gloss over the racial aspects of a story aimed primarily at children. Smith isn’t simply the traditional square-jawed Disney prince, and early on boasts about the amount of ‘savages’ he has killed during his adventuring. There’s clearly blood on his hands but, through his relationship with Pocahontas, learns of the value and importance of nature, as well as the peaceful ways of her tribe’s culture. The song Savages has both sides portraying the other as, well, savages, demonstrating their natural fear and distrust of a culture they know little about. Yet there is a distinct lack of fun to the film, with only Pocahontas’s animal side-kicks providing some much-needed light-hearted comic relief. Outside of the two leads, the supporting characters are wafer-thin, with Ratcliffe paying the moustache-twirling villain, and Powhatan the wise, mystical old man. It’s also unlikely you’ll be whistling the songs afterwards.

    Rating: 3/5

    Read more reviews at The Wrath of Blog

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