When it comes to historical accuracy, our next stop on the Disney Odyssey is definitely near the top of the list… that is, the list of films which took TONS of liberties with historical fact and real culture. Even so, it’s arguably one of the best portrayals of Native Americans in Disney canon, let alone in film history at large. Let that sink in for a second. Bottom line? We need more representation of cultures written and enacted by members of those cultures themselves. Representation matters.
That being said… it’s near and dear to our hearts for various reasons and we knew we needed to bring in an expert on historical weaponry… since we don’t have an expert on indigenous peoples of the Virginias circa 1600. That expert happens to be Katie Kowbel, a historical reenactor and a drama teacher that we know through the ren faire. She was thrilled to join us, and offer her truthbombs about musketry and How Reloading Works.
The Film: Pocahontas (1995)
- One of two Disney films based on a true story (the other one is Mulan).
- One of two Disney films featuring an American-born princess (the other is Tiana in The Princess and the Frog).
- One of two Disney films featuring a princess with a visible tattoo (the other is Kida in Atlantis: The Lost Empire).
- The film was released on June 23, four hundred years after the real Pocahontas was born. The premiere was staged in Central Park in NYC, projected onto screens and using large, carefully coordinated speakers. It was a massive crowd.
- The first Disney film to include an interracial romance.
- In attempts to be authentic while still re-imagining history, Disney execs hired several Native American advisors for the film and included a number of Native American voice actors: Russell Means (Powhatan), Irene Bedard (Pocahontas), Michelle St. John (Nakoma), James Apaumut Fall (Kocoum) and Gordon Tootoosis (Kekata).
- The animation in the film has a geometric, angular style to it that would later be developed further and used in Mulan and Hercules, with variations according to the cultural aesthetic.
- Governor Ratcliffe and his manservant Wiggins are voiced by the same actor: David Ogden Stiers, who had previously voiced Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast.
- Jeffrey Katzenberg pushed for the film to be more serious, more romantic and sincere. He wanted to follow the example of Beauty and the Beast‘s Best Picture nomination, but additionally he didn’t want any issues with political correctness, so even though the animators pushed for more jokes and broader humor, Katzenberg held firm. He even had them write Meeko, Flit, and Percy to be mute for a sense of realism and to keep the focus of the film on the romance between John Smith and Pocahontas.
- Historically, Pocahontas would have been about twelve, and John Smith was not necessarily the gentle-hearted good guy he is in the film. Execs at Disney decided artistic license needed to be taken in order to tell a good story – and to better ‘explain’ the relationship between Pocahontas and John Smith, the protagonist was aged up from a child to an older teen at the very least.
- There is a direct-to-VHS sequel called Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World. It is a dreadful piece of cinema that we cannot in good conscience recommend that you watch.
- This movie contains the debut of Mel Gibson’s actual singing voice.
- The clothes are so, so wrong. And we’ve only just begun. Like, where is John Smith’s shirt? He has a doublet and sleeves but no shirt… how???
- Christian Bale! Looks like himself. And that 90’s haircut…
- The shapes, colors, and visual themes in England at the beginning here are very similar to Sleeping Beauty.
- Katie went on a rant about John Smith’s missing shirt and the size of the cannons being incorrect for this time period. “His pants are not attached to his doublet, either. They WILL fall down.”
- Pocahontas has no fear, apparently. She jumps off giant cliffs without even batting an eye. Later, she canoes down waterfalls and rapids. She’s also super tall and strong. She’s basically the best.
- Adding to the Sleeping Beauty easter eggs, the animals that crowd around Grandmother Willow are straight outta Aurora’s neighborhood forest.
- Drew: “Look at these picturesque moments Pocahontas has…” Aly: “Her Instagram is on fleek.” Katie: “Dat filter tho.”
- Drew: “Did they even have pugs back then?” Katie and Aly: “YES. They came from China like a century earlier.”
- Wait, so they’re going to dig for gold BEFORE they build the fort? I feel like Ratcliffe’s priorities are out of order…unless he’s going to sleep on the boat.
- Katie had some stuff to say about the moment where Pocahontas and John Smith meet. John lights the fuse for his musket while behind the waterfall, then JUMPS THROUGH A WATERFALL with the fuse still lit, and then spends the rest of the scene transfixed on her and doesn’t act like the gun is still loaded.
- (John Smith raises his gun to a surprised adult bear) Katie: “No, you have nothing. You have no chance of winning that fight. No shot.” Aly: “But it’s for the Instagram.”
- Katie posits that the ‘colors of the wind’ means simultaneously using your imagination and using watercolors as your primary medium for painting.
- (Ratcliffe implies that the Native Americans have the gold and are hiding it from them) Everyone: “BINGO.” Katie: “Yes. OBVIOUSLY that’s it.”
- It’s interesting that there is an ongoing theme in this movie about people telling Pocahontas what she should want/what she should do, and the one time she gives in to what she herself really wants (i.e. kissing John) she is ‘punished’ by seeing Kocoum killed. This is a theme in literature and media throughout time: women are punished for choosing themselves and their own desires over the needs and wants of others, the goodness or badness of the thing they want being irrelevant (see: Helen of Troy, Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” etc.).
- The “Savages” song sequence is beautifully animated and 100% terrifying.
- “This is where the path of hatred has brought us.” DAAAAAMN we needed that wakeup call.
- (The wind kicks up as Pocahontas demands what path her father will take instead of killing) Aly: “The colors of the wind is her mother.” Katie: “….oh my God.” Aly: “Every time they think about or talk about her mother, the wind stirs up around them.” Katie: “Holy crap. I’m… I’m crying a little bit.” Aly: “You’re welcome.”
- (John Smith is freed from his bonds) Katie: “So… there’s his shirt…. finally… kind of…” FULL CIRCLE, Y’ALL.
Disney Renaissance Credits Slow Jam:
That’s all for now… but stay tuned because The Hunchback of Notre Dame is next!!!
Extra special thanks to my patrons who made this and all Disney Odyssey posts possible: AE, Alexis, Allen, Andy, Ben, Cameron, Candace, David, Dennis, Eric, Erika, Josh, Kat, Katie, Mary & Rhett, Mary-Kate, Matt, Mel, Michael, Rebecca, Stephen, and Tiffany. If you’re interested in supporting this blog, the Disney Odyssey, and future fantastical adventures, please consider donating a dollar or more to my Patreon!
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