I watch a lot of sports but specifically football. Every so often during the game, a play happens that on the field is called one thing but it is so close that it goes to a review. I’ve seen amazing plays but when the video is slowed down and analyzed a little more, the play goes the other way. I’ve seen this go the other direction as well. A play that seemingly didn’t have a good outcome gets analyzed and deemed that the player did in fact make a sensational play. Regardless of the decision the phrase that officials always use is “After further review”.
I’ve decided to start a series based on this idea for Disney movies. In watching Disney movies as an adult I’ve had both situations happen. I’ve watched a movie that I thought was amazing but after watching it again thought, “Why do we herald this movie as a great?” and I’ve also watched movies that I think, “Why aren’t more people talking about this movie?” So I’m going to go under the hood and take a closer look at some Disney movies and see how they hold up. First up is the 1995 Disney classic, Pocahontas.
Let’s first talk about the good. And by good I mean really great. The music is downright amazing. It is top to bottom of this soundtrack. Colors of the Wind gets all the praise, rightfully so seeing as it won an Academy Award. But it the entire song list is so well written not just from a song to song perspective but of how much thought is put into the deeper meaning of each song. Let me show you what I mean.
Just Around the River Bend: The end of this song has Pocahontas come to a fork in the river and she sings about the decision to either take the smoothest course and marry Kokoum or whether there is something else that she is meant for. One of the fork directions is a straight path while the other is very windy. As she sings the last note, she chooses the windier, less safe, pathway. The symbolism of her choosing that path is pretty obvious but it shows the care that the animators and song writers took with this song.
Mine, Mine, Mine: In terms of villains songs, this is one that doesn’t always get talked about. Which makes sense. Governor Radcliffe is a good villain but usually isn’t everyone’s favorite. He is just a jerk plain and simple so he isn’t a villain that you want to cheer for. The double meaning of him singing the word “Mine” is delightful. He is telling the men to mine the gold while also claiming that the gold is “mine”. Again, really great care in terms of lyrics.
Savages: This song never gets talked about but it is so good. The fact that each side sings about how the opposite people are downright savages is such an interesting and thought provoking concept. We all have probably experienced a group of people hating another out of pure misunderstanding and this is what you have here. Each group completely misunderstands the other and their resort is to calling them savages.
The other good thing about this movie is the side characters. Every movie needs the supporting characters to shine in just the right way for the main characters and storyline to be supported. The cat and mouse game that Meeko and Percy play is a fun subplot that gets some chuckles. Grandmother Willow plays the wise old grandma and then transitions flawlessly into kooky grandma at a moment’s notice. Thomas has a real arc in the movie but it doesn’t overshadow the main storyline. Basically, every side character seems to fit well into the puzzle of the plot.
Now onto the bad. The relationships between Pocahontas and John Smith is weird. Like really weird. Like really super weird. It was not something I noticed as a kid but all of the interactions between those two characters feel off. When they first meet, they try the whole “they can’t understand each other” bit which doesn’t make sense to us the viewer. We’ve heard the Native American tribe speak English and suddenly now she doesn’t understand. But then a wind comes by with colorful leaves and now she can? It’s a part that could’ve just been taken out. Sure there would’ve been some people that cried, “That’s unrealistic!” but if you are watching Disney movies for realism you are going into it the wrong way. Pick up a history book if you are wanting accurate history.
The romance feels extremely forced. They meet and immediately fall in love? I could understand a mutual curiosity and excitement about meeting a person who is from a different culture. After all, Pocahontas craves adventure and something new and John Smith does as well. I think this would’ve made more sense as a mutual friendship rather than a romantic relationship. It comes off a childish infatuation which I just don’t see as believable for both of the characters. Pocahontas doesn’t want to be tied down. She wants adventure, freedom and an ability to forge her own path. John Smith is a seasoned adventurer. I’m sure this isn’t the first pretty face he has ever seen but suddenly this one derails everything? I’m just not buying it. I would’ve rather this been a mutual friendship. Everything that the romantic plot device does, a mutual friendship relationship could do as well and it would feel less awkward.
After further review, this movie is not as good as I remember it being and it all centers around the romantic relationship. Yes I know, I sang the praises of the music and the side characters but the relationship between John Smith and Pocahontas is just too much. If you are at a party and someone lets out a fart, it doesn’t matter how great the music is or how delightful the people are, that fart is going to ruin the party. The romance between Pocahontas and John Smith is the fart that ruins this movie. The sad thing is if that one element wasn’t there, I would be singing the praises of this movie. This goes to show how difficult it is to make movies. One small story element can drastically change how the movie is perceived. This movie also has the issue of coming on the heels of Disney classics like Beauty and the Beast, Lion King and Aladdin all of which I believe still hold up very well today. Would I think more of this movie if it came out in 2004 right before Home on the Range? Perhaps. But right now, after further review, I have to place it a couple tiers below many of the Disney classics.