Tuesday, May 19, 2020

"Pocahontas" - Disney animated film review

The Disney animated movie that I watched for the first time last week was "Pocahontas".

I was a little hesitant going into this movie. I had a basic idea of what the movie was about, and while it did follow the likely-made-up version told by the real John Smith, I did appreciate that it was more than just that.

The dynamic of the tribal chief, Pocahontas and John Smith reminded me of the “The Little Mermaid”, released 6 years prior, with regard to Triton, Ariel and Eric. That’s reinforced later with the scenes of Pocahontas’ hair blowing in the wind much like how Ariel’s hair sways in the currents of the ocean. Pocahontas being unwilling to marry her arranged to-be husband reminded me of Merida, and her great line of “I will be shooting for my own hand” in the archery contest.

There were a few plot points that were entirely too stereotypical for movies like this, with Pocahontas as the “noble savage” who falls immediately in love with the blond-hair, blue-eyed John Smith (the ONLY blond in the bunch), who means well even in his ignorance, but her love and guidance help him to see the light. I did appreciate that instead of beating around the bush, trying to couch John Smith’s superior attitude toward the “savages” in a paternalistic sense of showing the uncivilized children how adults live and behave (even though John Smith says as much), I did like the immediate kick-back from Pocahontas as she challenges not only his viewpoint but the very words he uses. Having now seen and heard “Colors of the Wind” in the context of the film, I think it’s a fantastic song that conveys Pocahontas’ scolding of John Smith’s racist viewpoint. (And to echo my earlier comparison of Pocahontas to Ariel, there’s a scene during this song where Pocahontas’ hair becomes a frozen-yogurt-swirl, just like Ariel’s did in “Under the Sea”, maybe?) I feel like “Just Around the Riverbend” is more often used in association with this film, but this song is much more representative of the spirit of the film. I’m glad “Colors of the Wind” won Best Original Song at the Oscars.

Speaking of “Just Around the Riverbend”, I never knew there was a second verse to the song. I guess I’ve never heard the song in total, only snippets in shows and such, and they only ever use the first verse and chorus.

I thought the scene near the beginning where the ship encounters dangers on the ocean with the storm was a terrific scene and very well done.

Governor Radcliffe is very much depicted as a one-note character. He’s bad, all bad, and there’s nothing good about him. When he reveals that he’s after gold and envisions that finding such gold will bring him fortune, fame, power and even a kingship back home, he reminded me of Clayton from “Tarzan”, who had his own nefarious motives as well. I did find Radcliffe’s costuming to be very interesting. While all of the sailors are in browns and dark blues, Radcliffe wears a very flamboyant outfit with multiple bright colors. He looks like he’s dressed to attend the Festival of Fools from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, and he’d probably give Clopin a run for his money in the costuming contest.

John Smith seemed pretty non-descript, and he looked a lot to me like the human form of the prince aka The Beast in “Beauty and the Beast”. I had forgotten that he was voiced by Mel Gibson, but I think he did a perfectly fine job.

I was a bit puzzled at the arc that involved Thomas. He’s set up as someone who’s going to play a role later because he’s the only one of the sailors that they spotlight as the ship is about to depart, so I kept expecting him to do something. Ultimately, he’s the one who kills the warrior that Pocahontas was supposed to marry, but as much of a flashpoint as that turns out to be, his involvement is brushed aside. He’s the one who actually kills him, but it’s John Smith who gets the blame and who is sentenced to death. Thomas is the culprit in the most critical event that happens in the entire movie and yet he remains in the shadows. That is, until he all of a sudden finds his voice and appears to lead the sailors in a revolt against Radcliffe. And then come to find out that Thomas is voiced by Christian Bale! Yeah, I definitely expected more out of Thomas.

One point that I absolutely hated in this film is the resolution of the language barrier. They establish that John Smith and Pocahontas speak different languages and so communication is a problem. But then, in the next minute, a wind blows in, apparently bringing with it a Universal Translator, and all of a sudden, the two are conversing perfectly easily. I understand that the language issue is one that needed to be resolved, probably fairly quickly, but this just seemed like a cheap way to do that.

One thing I really did like in the film was Meeko. I’ve known he was in the film but didn’t really know much about him other than that he’s Pocahontas’ raccoon sidekick, but he was really very cute. I loved that he was always pre-occupied with food, and I laughed as he was picking up the biscuits that John Smith was dropping. There’s also a scene later in the film where Meeko is sticking out of the top of a tree trunk and the pug is at the bottom part, and it made me think of Rocket the Raccoon! There were a few occasions when Meeko pretended to be a hat, which I also thought was funny and was a bit of morbid humour. When Meeko did that, he also reminded me of Sammy from the Country Bear Jamboree. And while Meeko is cute as can be, I’m pretty sure raccoons don’t know how to braid hair!

Radcliffe’s pug was incredibly annoying to me, even when he got converted thanks to Meeko’s intervention.

And Flit the hummingbird is completely superfluous in this film. Meeko is already the comedic sidekick, and Flit does very little to add to that, even though he is the reason John Smith is dancing around and spilling biscuits everywhere for Meeko to scoop up. I don’t know they they felt Flit was needed.

I was a bit concerned about how the film was going to end, either that Pocahontas would choose to go with John Smith, or John Smith would decide to stay, but I’m glad they resolved it the way that they did. They each went back to where they belonged. The “happily ever after” for each of them is different than what is usual in these types of movies.

And I usually don’t care for the pop versions of songs in animated films, but I think Vanessa Williams did a good job with “Colors of the Wind”. Sometimes, the pop version is too angsty or overdone, and she did neither.

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